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US authorities seek forfeiture of $75m in luxury real estate linked to sanctioned Russian collector and the former director of his museum

Vladimir Voronchenko, the founding director of the Faberge Museum in St Petersburg that houses Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg’s collection, has been named in a civil forfeiture complaint filed by US authorities against $75m of Vekselberg’s luxury properties in New York and Florida due to sanctions evasion and money laundering allegedly connected to their purchase.

The case, filed on the first anniversary of Russia’s 24 February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, is part of efforts targeting the property of Russian oligarchs accused of propping up President Vladimir Putin’s regime, formally known as Task Force KleptoCapture. US Attorney Damian Williams said in a statement that the US “will use every available tool to forfeit criminal proceeds and will use that money to help our allies in Ukraine”.

An indictment against Voronchenko was unsealed on 7 February and outlines charges of participating in a scheme to funnel $4m in maintenance payments for four of Vekselberg’s US properties, attempting to sell two of them and contempt of court for fleeing the US for Moscow via Dubai last May after being served a grand jury subpoena. Andrew C. Adams, the director of Task Force KleptoCapture, said that “shell companies, strawmen and professional money launderers did not shield Voronchenko or the illicit transactions” from investigators.

Earlier this year, federal prosecutors in New York on the hunt for Russian sanctions violators subpoenaed several auction houses for sales records. UK businessman Graham Bonham-Carter was indicted in October 2022 for allegedly attempting to ship artworks belonging to Oleg Deripaska, another Russian oligarch with ties to Putin, from the US to London in 2021.

The Faberge Museum, housed inside the grand Shuvalov Palace built at the end of Catherine the Great’s reign, was founded in 2014 by Vekselberg’s Link of Times Foundation, which was also run for years by Voronchenko, to showcase the collection of Russian Imperial-era jewel-encrusted eggs and enamelled objects that he had purchased from American entrepreneur and publisher Malcolm Forbes. Voronchenko was often a fixture at the museum’s openings, which included international blockbusters such as Russia’s first-ever Frida Kahlo exhibition in 2016.

Both the civil forfeiture complaint and indictment describe Voronchenko as “a businessman, art collector, and art dealer, and a close friend and business associate of Vekselberg”. According to the complaint, Voronchenko at various times lived at three of the properties, on Park Avenue in Manhattan, in Southampton and on Fisher Island, Florida, was “a legal permanent resident of the United States” and managed $18.5m in funds wired by companies owned by Vekselberg.

A 2008 letter from an attorney retained by Voronchenko to assist in the purchase of the approximately $11m Park Avenue property—on behalf of a Panamanian company owned by Vekselberg—described Voronchenko as the billionaire’s “cousin, friend and business colleague”, who will live in the apartment “for the next several years”.

Vekselberg was first sanctioned by US authorities in 2018 in connection with Russia’s international actions, including its occupation of Crimea. Stronger sanctions were imposed on him in March 2022. That same month, the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control seized his $90m private jet and his $90m yacht, Tango.

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