The U.S. Justice Department on Thursday unsealed an indictment charging Russian aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska and two associates with conspiracy to evade U.S. sanctions.
Deripaska, 52, who is considered a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department in 2018 for acting on behalf of a senior Russian official and for operating in Russia’s energy sector.
He was among seven Russian oligarchs and 17 government officials targeted in response to the Russian government’s “malign activity” around the world, including its continued occupation of Crimea and aggression in eastern Ukraine.
Deripaska’s name also surfaced during the special counsel investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
However, he was not charged with any wrongdoing in connection with the Russian scheme, and the Treasury Department announcement of sanctions against Deripaska made no mention of the Russian election interference.
Deripaska’s two indicted associates – Natalia Mikhaylovna Bardakova, 45, a Russian national, and Olga Shriki, 42, a naturalized U.S. citizen living in the state of New Jersey – are accused of conducting hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of financial transactions in support of his business and personal activities, according to the 31-page indictment. Among other things, the two are accused of helping Deripaska’s pregnant girlfriend, Ekaterina Olegovna Voronina, travel to the United States so she could give birth to their child and gain U.S. citizenship for the baby. Voronina has also been charged in the indictment.
Shriki was arrested earlier Thursday. The other three defendants remain at large.
The criminal charges against Deripaska and his associates are part of a broader effort by the Justice Department to punish Putin allies for supporting Russia’s war effort in violation of sweeping sanctions imposed by the United States following the February 24 military incursion into Ukraine.
In the months since, the U.S. government has designated nearly 2,000 Russian, Belarusian and Ukrainian individuals and entities for their involvement in or their support of the war, James O’Brien, the State Department’s coordinator for sanctions policy told a Senate panel on Wednesday.
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland launched the interagency law enforcement effort known as Task Force KleptoCapture just days after the Russian assault.
"In the wake of Russia's unjust 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,” Garland said in a statement. “Today's charges demonstrate we are keeping that promise.”
The sanctions slapped on Deripaska and other oligarchs made their assets subject to seizure and barred U.S. nationals from doing business with them.
“Yet for four years afterwards, and in violation of those sanctions, Deripaska continued to retain Olga Shriki and…Natalia Mikhaylovna Bardakova … to provide hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of services for his benefit in the United States,” the indictment says.
In 2019, Shriki allegedly facilitated the sale of a California music studio Deripaska had owned through a series of shell companies, according to the indictment.
Deripaska then allegedly tried to transfer the more than $3 million in proceeds from the sale through a California shell company to an account in Russia, the indictment alleges.
In the indictment, the grand jury alleges that in 2020 Deripaska’s girlfriend Voronina, with Shriki’s help, flew on a private jet to the United States where she delivered her child, allowing the baby to receive U.S. citizenship.
But a 2022 attempt to deliver a second child in the United States failed, according to the indictment.
After flying into the United States on another private jet and misleading federal agents about Deripaska’s and his associates’ roles in the sanctions evasion scheme, Voronina was refused entry, according to the indictment.
In addition to evading U.S. sanctions, Shriki is accused of destroying evidence sought by a grand jury while Bardakova and Voronina face charges of making false statements to federal agents investigating the scheme.
According to the indictment, between 2005 and 2008, Deripaska purchased at least three luxury properties in New York and Washington worth tens of millions of dollars.
Last year, FBI agents searched two of the properties in Washington and New York apparently as part of the criminal investigation that led to the indictment.
In 2019, the Treasury Department lifted sanctions against Deripaska’s aluminum behemoth, Rusal, and two linked entities after Deripaska agreed to reduce his ownership interest in them.
But sanctions against Deripaska have remained in place even as Deripaska has mounted an unsuccessful legal challenge in the United States to get his name removed from the Treasury Department list of designated Russian tycoons linked to Putin.
FBI Director Christopher Wray said the indictment of Deripaska and his associates "reflects the FBI's commitment to use all of the tools at our disposal to aggressively pursue those who attempt to evade the United States' economic countermeasures against the Russian government."
"We will continue to aggressively prosecute those who violate measures imposed to protect the national security and foreign policy of the United States, especially in this time of Russia's unprovoked aggression toward Ukraine," Wray said in a statement.