British man arrested in Spain accused of being front man for Russian oligarch close to Putin
The Guardia Civil working alongside the FBI and Homeland Security Investigation (HSI) teams from the United States are claiming a huge victory against the networks that the Kremlin and Russian oligarchs are using to try to bypass the international embargo introduced after the country’s invasion of Ukraine last February.
Under the name Operation Magnolia, they have reported that they arrested a British man named Richard Masters, at the Madrid Barajas Airport on Friday who is supposedly acting as a figurehead in Spain for one of Russia’s most prominent oligarchs, Víktor Vekselberg, a well-known magnate with business interests in the oil, energy, and telecommunications, and who is recognised as being in Putin’s inner circle.
52-year-old Masters is accused of ‘hiding’ the fact that Vekselberg owns the superyacht, the Tango valued at $90 million, through a complicated corporate network that includes his luxury boat management company based in Palma, after it was seized in April following the invasion of Ukraine.
The National Court in Spain released Masters on Sunday, although they withdrew his passport as a precautionary measure while his extradition to the United States is being processed.
According to the report from the investigation team, the arrested man hid the true ownership of the Tango, which is 77 metres long with four decks and sails under the flag of the Cook Islands, behind a company located in the Virgin Islands, which, in turn, manages a firm in Panama, which would ultimately be controlled by Masters on behalf of the oligarch.
The Brit’s arrest happened at the request of US authorities in Washington, which has focused on Vekselberg's opaque businesses since 2014, for the crimes of fraud, violation of the US International Emergency Economic Powers Act, and money laundering, under the legal laws of that country, for the imposition and enforcement of the sanctions imposed on individuals and legal entities of Russian origin.
Vekselberg was already subject to a sanction in April 2018, by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), of the US Department of the Treasury, after the annexation of the Crimean peninsula by the Russian Federation in 2014, and again, after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
"The object of the sanction is the actions of this Russian citizen for or in favour of the government of the Russian Federation, as well as for his operations of a technological nature in said State," said Spain’s Ministry del Interior.
Richard Masters is the owner and administrator of a commercial company based on the Palma seafront called Master Yachts, which maintains and offers administrative services for boats. Among his clients and managed vessels, the oligarch's yacht, which was used by Vekselberg and his family circle, had long been on the books.
According to US authorities, Masters provided services aimed at satisfying “the personal needs of the owner and users of the yacht with knowledge of the existence of the existing sanctions and prohibitions on this person," and accuses Masters of hiding the true ownership of the yacht under a false name, the Fanta, so as not to arouse suspicion. In this way, it provided services and goods to the yacht itself, to its owner and its users, for a value of more than $485,000.
Investigators estimate that, in addition, Masters and his company earned more than 800,000 euros for the administration of the yacht.
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