Russian Oligarchs Could See U.S. Real Estate Properties Seized As Part Of Sanctions

On Wednesday, the Biden Administration announced the creation of a new task force — named “KleptoCapture” — that will enforce U.S. sanctions on Russian oligarchs that have helped to fund Putin’s deadly endeavors.

Biden teased the creation Tuesday night during his State of the Union speech, where he stated that the U.S. would begin to seize oligarch assets such as yachts, jets, and apartments. “We are coming for your ill-begotten gains,” the President threatened. In the past decades, dozens of wealthy oligarchs have set up shop with penthouses, mansions, and apartments in America’s major cities in attempts to capitalize on the real estate market trends.

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The Real Deal took a look at some of the more prominent oligarchs that have high-valued properties in the U.S., with the most notable being Roman Abramovich, the owner of Chelsea F.C. who’s also known as “Putin’s banker.” The 55-year-old Abramovich — worth a net worth of $13.8 billion — is tied to more than $90 million of real estate in New York City with three townhouses (that were transferred over to his ex-wife in late 2017), along with a total of $48.2 million in the form of two mansions near Aspen, Colorado.

Elsewhere in New York, Billionaire Eugene Shvidler, a Russian-American gold mining investor and oil tycoon, purchased a $24.5 million 5,000-square-unit in the city in 2018 while Len Blavatnik has spent a whopping $279.75 million on five properties since 2005, the majority of them located in the Lenox Hill neighborhood of the upper east side.

Meanwhile, Oleg Deripaska, the founder of Rusal, purchased two homes worth $47 million — which he has since transferred to relatives — though that doesn’t beat billionaire Alexei Kuzmichev’s $57.5 million worth of properties. Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine had previously pleaded for the U.S. to take action against the moguls.

“For years Manhattan has been one of the most popular safe harbors for Russian oligarchs to park their cash, especially via ultra-high-end apartments. It’s time to start seizing their properties.”

Of course, it’s not just New York that has attracted hefty purchases. A 2017 Reuters report found that 63 individuals with Russian passports or addresses invested nearly $100 million into seven luxury Trump-branded towers in Southern Florida. The buyers were politically connected businessmen, though Reuters found none to be in Putin’s inner circle.

NBC News also noted that Ukrainian oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky — who became a Russia propogandia supporter during the Trump administration — developed a financial stranglehold in Ohio, becoming the “biggest landlord in downtown Cleveland” in his scheme to move illicit money from Ukrainian banks to the U.S. to buy skyscrapers and steel mills.

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Despite the high notoriety and bountiful assets, most of the oligarchs mentioned — apart from some like Deripaska, who’s been linked to Russian organized crime — have not been put on the sanctions list yet by the U.S. Department of the Treasury. Experts believe it might also be difficult to seize properties due to major disclosure loopholes in private equity and luxury goods that were utilized by the oligarchs, such as in the cases of transferring ownership.

“There’s this misunderstanding that you can just go out and seize these mansions, seize these yachts. For so many of them, it’s a complete black box,” author Casey Michel told NBC News. “The U.S. provided all the tools of anonymity the oligarchs needed.”

With seizes and sanctions threatening their holdings, oligarchs have — perhaps reluctantly — slowly started to speak out against Russia’s actions. Deripaska commented that “the world is very important,” and negotiations for peace should “start as soon as possible.” Abramovich is also set to sell Chelsea following immense pressure.