US obtains warrant to seize $90M jet of Russian oligarch

Ida Svystunova, 89, looks out the damaged room adjoining her apartment from a May rocket attack in Sloviansk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Sunday, Aug. 7, 2022. Svystunova was sleeping in her back room when the rocket went off out front. One soldier was killed and one injured in the room and another woman was killed elsewhere in the building. She is one of only four people left living in the block. (AP Photo/David Goldman) (David Goldman, Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

NEW YORK – A judge authorized the United States on Monday to seize a $90 million jet belonging to a Russian oligarch in a continuing effort to diminish the financial pillars of the Russian government after its invasion of Ukraine.

The effort to seize Andrei Skoch’s private plane, an Airbus A319-100, was part of a monthslong pursuit of sanctioned Russian oligarchs and their blocked property, U.S. Attorney Damian Williams announced.

Skoch, a steel magnate, is one of the wealthiest men in Russia’s Duma, or parliament. His fortune is valued at about $6.6 billion, according to Forbes. The U.S. Treasury first sanctioned Skoch in April 2018 over his ties to organized crime and for being “a deputy of the Russian Federation's State Duma.”

Following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control issued additional sanctions against Skoch and his assets, including by identifying the Airbus in June as property in which Skoch had an interest, according to a release from law enforcement authorities.

The warrant to seize the plane, which is now in Kazakhstan, was signed by U.S. District Judge Robert W. Lehrburger in New York after a federal agent submitted an affidavit explaining how Skoch is the owner of the Airbus through a series of shell companies and trusts tied to his romantic partner. Authorities said the jet is worth more than $90 million.

“Once again U.S. law enforcement has demonstrated that international shell games will not suffice to hide the fruits of corruption and money laundering," said Andrew C. Adams, director of a task force pursing the assets of Russian oligarchs.

The United States had already revealed it was seeking to seize a $156 million superyacht, the Madame Gu, belonging to Skoch. The 324-foot (98-meter) yacht has a helicopter pad, gym, beach club and elevator.

In June, Treasury issued additional sanctions against Skoch and his assets, banning American entities from conducting business with the superyacht. The yacht is registered in the Cayman Islands but has most recently been docked at Port Rashid in Dubai. Skoch is also sanctioned by the European Union.

The United Arab Emirates has not taken sides after Russia's invasion of Ukraine and has welcomed the influx of Russian money to its beachfront villas and luxury hotels. The UAE has become a safe haven for some Russian oligarchs to park their assets.

In June, a U.S. court ordered the seizure of two aircraft worth over $400 million believed to be owned by sanctioned Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich. A court filing said that the former Chelsea soccer club owner’s Boeing 787 Dreamliner was in the UAE.