By LARRY NEUMEISTER
NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. authorities moved Monday to seize two luxury jets — a $60 million Gulfstream and a $350 million aircraft believed to be one of the world’s most expensive private airplanes — after linking both to Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich.
A federal magistrate judge signed a warrant authorizing the seizure of the Gulfstream and a Boeing jet that authorities said was worth less than $100 million before a lavish customization.
The action takes place just days after the United States announced new sanctions and penalties on Russian oligarchs and elites, Kremlin officials, businessmen linked to President Vladimir Putin and their yachts, aircraft and firms that manage them.
President Joe Biden promised after Russia’s February invasion of Ukraine to pursue Russian elites’ “ill-gotten gains.”
U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said in a release Monday that his office was using every legal tool available to respond to “Russian’s illegal war in Ukraine.”
“Our international partners — nations devoted to the rule of law — far outnumber those jurisdictions where these aircraft can safely hide, and our investigation of illegal exports in violation of U.S. law will continue unabated,” he said.
Matthew S. Axelrod, assistant secretary of commerce for export enforcement, said the Commerce Department had made recent changes to keep its enforcement actions public regarding unprecedented export controls stemming from the invasion of Ukraine.
He said the action “provides notice to the world of our commitment to enforce those controls aggressively in a transparent way.”
Andrew Adams, a prosecutor who heads the unit pursuing the assets of Russian oligarchs, said the public nature of Monday’s action is meant to remind “members of the aviation, insurance, and financial industries that these aircraft constitute tainted property under active investigation by the United States.”
Justice Department officials say they have received strong support from companies and organizations and from countries that in the past had been viewed as safe havens for parking illegal assets.
Abramovich, who recently sold his stake in Chelsea, a Premier League football club in London, is among the wealthier Russians whose assets are being watched for sanctions violations after the Ukraine invasion.
In explaining the move to seize the planes, an FBI agent wrote in an affidavit that the Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner aircraft and the Gulfstream G650ER plane are subject to seizure because they have been moved between March 4 and March 15 without licenses being obtained in violation of sanctions placed against Russia.
According to the affidavit, Abramovich controlled the Gulfstream through a series of shell companies. The plane, it said, is believed to have been in Moscow since March 15.
The Boeing, meanwhile, is believed to be in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, following a roundtrip March 4 flight from Dubai to Moscow, the affidavit said.
Associated Press Writer Fatima Hussein in Washington contributed to this report.
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