Wednesday, October 28, 2020

U.S. accuses Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska of laundering money for Russian President Vladimir Putin

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New allegations have surfaced in the media that the U.S. government believes Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska has deep and secretive financial links with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Financial Times broke the news Friday that Deripaska, the founder of Basic Element, a Russian industrial group with interests in aluminum, energy, construction and agriculture, has been accused by the U.S. Treasury Department of money laundering on behalf of Putin.

The FT cites a letter it reviewed that was sent by the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control to Deripaska’s lawyers last month, claiming that in 2016 Deripaska was “reportedly identified as one of the individuals holding assets and laundering funds on behalf of Russian President Vladimir Putin.” The Office of Foreign Assets Control, an arm of the U.S. Treasury Department, imposed sanctions on Deripaska and his companies in April 2018.

A spokesperson for Deripaska did not reply to a request for comment from Forbes.

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Deripaska’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the FT that the allegations of money laundering were “not true” and that “These are unsupported allegations.”

The FT claims that the Office of Foreign Assets Control is elaborating on the reasons for its decision to sanction Deripaska but will only reveal “unclassified” and “releasable” justifications for targeting the Russian billionaire.

In the latest development in the long-running spat between U.S. and Russia over what’s described  in a 2014 Executive Order as “the Situation in Ukraine,” the U.S. Treasury has cited reports of financial foul play to justify the sanctions against Deripaska and some of his companies in 2018.

In April 2018 U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin accused the Russian government of engaging in “malign activity” including the occupation of Crimea and attempts to “instigate violence” in eastern Ukraine. Adding that “Russian oligarchs and elites who profit from this corrupt system will no longer be insulated from the consequences of their government’s destabilizing activities,” specifically targeting Deripaska for “threatening the lives of business rivals, illegally wiretapping a government official, and taking part in extortion and racketeering.”

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Mr. Deripaska sued the U.S. Treasury Department in March 2019,  alleging that the U.S. violated “the rule of law” by targeting him “simply because it is politically expedient or publicly popular to do so.” The suit claimed that “Deripaska, a private citizen of Russia, became the latest victim of this country’s political infighting and ongoing reaction to Russia’s purported interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections.” And the suit said the allegations against him “consist of nothing more than false rumor and innuendo and originate from decades-old defamatory attacks originated by his business competitors.”

In that same lawsuit, Deripaska claimed that U.S. actions against his business led to the “wholesale devastation” of his “wealth, reputation, and economic livelihood.”  Documents claim that Deripaska’s net worth has plunged by “$7.5 billion, or approximately 81%.” Forbesanalyzed these claims after the suit was filed and arrived at a different conclusion: Deripaska’s net worth fell about 47%, to an estimated $3.6 billion, between the time he was put on a U.S. sanctions list and the date the lawsuit was filed. Forbes currently pegs Deripaska’s net worth at $4.5 billion.

Deripaska’s suit against the U.S. Treasury also cites—as an example of what his lawyers claim is the bias against him—a 2019 tweet from U.S. Senator Charles Schumer: “How can Oleg Deripaska—a Russian oligarch who interferes in democracies in Europe & America—have the gall to show at Munich Security Conference? The conference talks about holding back Russian interference! EU friends: We urge imposing additional sanctions on Putin’s cronies.”

A spokesperson for the U.S. Treasury has not replied to a request for comment.

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