Federal investigators searched September 1 the Southampton estate of Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg whose $90 million private superyacht was recently seized as a part of sanctions enforced following the invasion of Ukraine.
Agents with the FBI and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) were spotted searching 19 Duck Pond Lane and a Park Avenue penthouse in Manhattan owned by Vekselberg, as well as properties on a private island in Florida, multiple New York metro area news outlets reported,
citing anonymous sources as confirming that Vekselberg was the target of the search. The Hamptons property was purchased in 2008 for $11.4 million by an entity known as Medallion Inc., a Panama-registered company that lists as director Olesya Kharlamova, the wife of Vekselberg’s childhood friend Vladimir Voronchenko, records show. A similar search occurred on properties linked to the billionaire on exclusive Fisher Island, a stone’s throw from Miami Beach.
“Court-ordered law enforcement activity” was how FBI representatives described the searches. Local police referred questions to federal authorities. HSI declined to comment. There was no immediate response to a request for comment sent to lawyers who have represented Vekselberg and Voronchenko’s family and associates did not immediately respond to a call placed to them seeking comment, the Associated Press reported.
Vekselberg, a Ukrainian-born businessman who is a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, had been sanctioned in 2018, but the U.S. Department of Justice recently stepped up its efforts to seize his and other oligarchs’ assets after Russia invaded Ukraine in February. He is the founding chairman of Moscow-based Renova Group, an aluminum, oil, energy and telecoms conglomerate.
Worth a reported $9.3 billion, he is ranked among richest people in the world and is believed to own the world’s largest collection of Fabergé eggs.
In April, Spanish authorities seized Vekselberg’s 225-foot yacht, the Tango, which U.S. authorities said was subject of forfeiture for bank fraud, money laundering and sanctions laws. Investigators said Vekselberg used shell companies to obfuscate his ownership in the Tango, which he bought in 2011. Vekselberg’s yacht was the first Russian asset seized by a task force formed to enforce sanctions after the start of the war, officials said at the time.
“For decades, the Putin regime has been supported by a group of Russian oligarchs that abused their power for private gain to amass untold riches,” Acting Special Agent in Charge Ricky J. Patel of the HSI’s New York office said after Vekselberg’s yacht was seized in April. “As (the Department of Homeland Security’s) investigative arm, HSI stands at the forefront of combatting global networks that seek to violate U.S. law and exploit our nation’s financial systems. Working with our partners at the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI, we will hold Putin’s oligarchs accountable and deny them the lavish lifestyles they cherish.”
His nearly two-acre Southampton property known as Villa Ledas has a 9,941-square-foot, two-story mansion built in 1998 with eight bedrooms and seven bathrooms, records show. The property was not seized, according to NBC News, which first reported the searches. It was listed for nearly $16 million in 2020. Amenities include a library, two bars, wine cellar, fitness center, heated pool, an all-weather tennis court and a sculpture garden.
“It’s a nice chunk of land,” Pat Petrillo, an associate broker with Sotheby’s International Realty who listed the house, told Mansion Global. “It’s a few doors from Old Town Beach, which is small and intimate.”
All the properties searched are owned by Voronchenko or companies tied to Voronchenko’s family and associates. Voronchenko was the founding director of a St. Petersburg museum built to house the oligarch’s Faberge egg collection.
Among the properties searched were four luxury condominiums on Fisher Island. Three were purchased for a combined $42 million but are worth considerably more today, property records show. Two are owned by Medallion Inc.
Kharlamova, who like her husband was born and raised in Ukraine, is also an officer of a condominium association for two luxury high rises on Fisher Island, which is so favored by jet-setting Russians that they’ve been dubbed the “Red Zone” by other residents. Amenities include infinity-edge pools, a state-of-the-art theater and a fur coat storage facility to protect garments from Miami’s humidity.
The FBI has previously warned that his nonprofit foundation may be a front for Russian espionage, NPR reported. Earlier this month, a federal judge approved a warrant authorizing the seizure of Vekselberg’s $90 million private jet, CNN reported.
Vekselberg made headlines in 2018 when a one-time attorney for porn star Stormy Daniels claimed that the oligarch paid $500,000 to Michael Cohen, a Lawrence native and former attorney for ex-President Donald Trump, to reimburse Cohen for paying Daniels $130,000 in hush money before the 2016 presidential election.
Daniels has said she had an affair with Trump while his wife Melania was pregnant with their son Barron.
The Southampton search comes after U.S. officials citing alleged espionage expelled Russian diplomats earlier this year, including those based at the Russian-owned Killenworth Estate in Glen Cove that has housed the nation’s diplomats for 70 years. The U.S. mission to the United Nations had reportedly described the Russian diplomats as “intelligence operatives” who had been “engaging in espionage activities that are adverse to our national security.”
The Russian invasion has sparked protests around the world, including on the East End, which is home to a community of Ukrainian immigrants and their supporters who have been sending aid to assist millions of refugees displaced by the war.
-With Associated Press