US charges Russian billionaire with violating sanctions

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US charges Russian billionaire with violating sanctions

NEW YORK - US prosecutors on Thursday unveiled criminal charges accusing Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska of violating sanctions imposed after Russia invaded Ukraine.

Deripaska, the 54-year-old founder of aluminum giant Rusal, was among two dozen Russian oligarchs and government officials blacklisted by Washington in 2018 in response to Russia's alleged meddling in the 2016 US election to help Donald Trump become president.

The US Department of Justice said Deripaska violated sanctions by using the US financial system to maintain three luxury properties and employ a woman to buy a California music studio on his behalf.

Prosecutors said Deripaska also violated sanctions by trying to have his girlfriend travel from Russia to the United States to bear his children.

In the wake of Russia's unjustified and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, I promised the American people that the Justice Department would work to hold accountable those who break our laws and threaten our national security," General Merrick Garland, US Attorney General, said in a statement. Today's charges show that we are keeping that promise. Three women -- Ekaterina Voronina, Natalia Bardakova and Olga Shriki -- were also charged in the indictment against Deripaska. Their lawyers could not be identified immediately.

Shriki, a New Jersey resident, was arrested on Thursday morning and released on US $2 million bond after a brief afternoon appearance in Manhattan federal court. Moscow has denied meddling in the 2016 US election and called the Ukraine invasion a special military operation.

According to Forbes magazine, Deripaska is worth US $2.8 billion and has been sanctioned by the European Union and Britain.

In blacklisting Deripaska, the US Treasury Department cited his allegedly acted on behalf of a senior Russian government official, and in order to operate in the energy sector.

Deripaska still owns part of Rusal through his stake in En Group. Washington has sanctioned both companies in the past, but no longer does.

The indictment said Shriki arranged the sale of a Burbank, California music studio in 2019 for Deripaska's benefit.

Shriki and Bardakova arranged for Voronina to travel to the United States in 2020 to give birth to Deripaska's child, and that another trip was arranged this year so Voronina could give birth again.

The indictment also outlined Voronina's efforts to rent a home in Beverly Hills, California, and told Deripaska that she found one and was negotiating payment.

Deripaska, Shriki, and Bardakova were charged with violating sanctions. Shriki was charged with destroying evidence, while Bardakova and Voronina were charged with making false statements to the U.S. investigators.

More than a decade ago when he was sanctioned, Deripaska began doing business with Paul Manafort, Trump's 2016 campaign chairman, who convinced him to invest in a private equity fund that would invest mainly in Russia and Ukraine.

In October 2021, Deripaska mocked the idea of election interference after FBI raids of Washington and New York properties linked to Deripaska's family.

I can't help but marvel at the utter stupidity of part of the American establishment who continue to spin this story, Deripaska posted on social media.

At the time, the FBI didn't say anything about the raids.

Manafort was convicted in 2018 of fraud charges and sentenced to 7.5 years in prison. Trump pardoned him in December 2020.