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Sinking feeling US seizes yacht in Mallorca owned by oligarch with close ties to Vladimir Putin

The Tango is a 254-foot vessel carrying a Cook Islands flag, a Civil Guard source said, and is said to be valued at around £91.5 million.

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Civil Guards stand by the yacht called Tango in Palma de Mallorca on Monday April 4 2022 (Francisco Ubilla/AP)

Civil Guards stand by the yacht called Tango in Palma de Mallorca on Monday April 4 2022 (Francisco Ubilla/AP)

Civil Guards stand by the yacht called Tango in Palma de Mallorca on Monday April 4 2022 (Francisco Ubilla/AP)

The US government has seized a mega yacht owned by an oligarch with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

It is the first in the government’s sanctions enforcement initiative to “seize and freeze” giant boats and other pricey assets of Russian elites.

Spain’s Civil Guard and US FBI officers descended on the yacht at the Marina Real in the port of Palma de Mallorca, the capital of Spain’s Balearic Islands.

Reporters saw police going in and out of the boat on Monday morning.

The seizure was confirmed by two people familiar with the matter.

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A Civil Guard officer stands by the yacht (Francisco Ubilla/AP)

A Civil Guard officer stands by the yacht (Francisco Ubilla/AP)

A Civil Guard officer stands by the yacht (Francisco Ubilla/AP)

A Spanish Civil Guard spokesman confirmed that officers from the Spanish police body and from the FBI were at the marina searching the vessel on Monday morning and said further details will be released later.

The immobilised yacht is Tango, a 254-foot vessel carrying a Cook Islands flag, a Civil Guard source said, and is valued at around £91.5 million according to superyachtfan.com, a specialised website tracking the world’s largest and most exclusive recreational boats.

The yacht is among the assets linked to Viktor Vekselberg, a billionaire and close ally of Mr Putin who heads the Moscow-based Renova Group, a conglomerate encompassing metals, mining, tech and other assets, according to US Treasury Department documents.

Mr Vekselberg’s assets in the US are frozen and US companies are forbidden from doing business with him and his entities.

The move is the first time the US government has seized an oligarch’s yacht since attorney general Merrick Garland and Treasury secretary Janet Yellen assembled a task force known as Repo — short for Russian Elites, Proxies and Oligarchs — in an effort to enforce sanctions after Russia invaded Ukraine in late February.

Mr Vekselberg has long had ties to the US, including a green card he once held and homes in New York and Connecticut.

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The Ukrainian-born businessman built his fortune by investing in the aluminium and oil industries in the post-Soviet era.

Mr Vekselberg was also questioned during an investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election and has worked closely with his American cousin, Andrew Intrater, who heads the New York investment management firm Columbus Nova.

Mr Vekselberg and Mr Intrater were thrust into the spotlight during the election probe after a lawyer for adult film star Stormy Daniels released a memo claiming $500,000 (£382,000) in hush money was routed through Columbus Nova to a shell company set up by Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen.

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A US federal agent walks past two Civil Guards on the yacht (Francisco Ubilla/AP)

A US federal agent walks past two Civil Guards on the yacht (Francisco Ubilla/AP)

A US federal agent walks past two Civil Guards on the yacht (Francisco Ubilla/AP)

Columbus Nova denied that Mr Vekselberg played a role in its payments to Mr Cohen.

Mr Vekselberg and Mr Intrater met with Mr Cohen at Trump Tower, one of several meetings between members of Mr Trump’s inner circle and high-level Russians during the 2016 campaign and transition.

The 64-year-old mogul founded Renova Group more than three decades ago. The group holds the largest stake in United Co. Rusal, Russia’s biggest aluminium producer, among other investments.

Mr Vekselberg was first sanctioned by the US in 2018, and again this March, shortly after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began. Mr Vekselberg has also been sanctioned by authorities in the United Kingdom.

The White House said many allied countries, including Germany, the UK, France, Italy and others are trying to collect and share information against Russians targeted for sanctions.

President Joe Biden warned oligarchs the US and its European allies will “find and seize your yachts, your luxury apartments, your private jets”.

He said: “We are coming for your ill-begotten gains.”

The US Justice Department has also launched a sanctions enforcement task force known as KleptoCapture, which also aims to enforce financial restrictions in the US imposed on Russia and its billionaires, working with the FBI, Treasury and other federal agencies.

That task force will also target financial institutions and entities that have helped oligarchs move money to dodge sanctions.

Wednesday’s capture is not the first time Spanish authorities have been involved in the seizure of a Russian oligarch’s superyacht. Officials there said they had seized a vessel valued at about £107 million owned by the CEO of a state-owned defence conglomerate and a close Mr Putin ally.

French authorities have also seized superyachts, including one believed to belong to Igor Sechin, a Mr Putin ally who runs Russian oil giant Rosneft, which has been on the US sanctions list since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.

Italy has also seized several yachts and other assets.

Italian financial police moved quickly seizing the superyacht “Lena” belonging to Gennady Timchenko, an oligarch close to Mr Putin, in the port of San Remo; the 215-foot “Lady M” owned by Alexei Mordashov in nearby Imperia, featuring six suites and estimated to be worth £54 million; as well as villas in Tuscany and Como, according to government officials.

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