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US charges head of Russia's VTB Bank for sanctions violations

VTB CEO Kostin meets Russian President Putin in Moscow

By Andrew Goudsward

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The United States on Thursday charged the CEO of Russian-state owned VTB Bank Andrey Kostin and two U.S.-based associates with sanctions violations as part of a flurry of enforcement actions aimed at Russia two years after it invaded Ukraine.

Kostin, who was sanctioned by the United States in 2018, is accused of money laundering and sanctions violations through his maintenance of two yachts worth more than $135 million and a home in the resort town of Aspen, Colorado, according to an indictment in Manhattan federal court.

Two associates, Vadim Wolfson and Gannon Bond were arrested in the United States on charges of helping to take care of the $12 million Colorado property while concealing that Kostin owned it, U.S. Justice Department officials said.

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Kostin, who is believed to be in Russia, remains at large.

The indictment was one of five criminal and civil actions the Justice Department unveiled on Thursday as part of an effort by U.S. authorities to crackdown on people with ties to the Kremlin.

“The Justice Department is more committed than ever to cutting off the flow of illegal funds that are fueling Putin’s war and to holding accountable those who continue to enable it,” U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement.

The other cases include charges against pro-Russian Ukrainian oligarch Serhiy Kurchenko for allegedly using shell companies to sell metal products in the United States.

Kurchenko, an associate of former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich, was sanctioned by the United States in 2015. Kurchenko, who is believed to live in Moscow, is not in U.S. custody.

U.S. authorities also moved to seize two Florida condominiums allegedly linked to the founders of a sanctioned Russian construction company and indicted a resident of Switzerland accused of operating a superyacht owned by Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg.

The Justice Department launched a "KleptoCapture" task force in 2022 following Russia's invasion of Ukraine in hopes of straining the finances of Russia elite and hampering funding for the war.

The effort has since yielded criminal charges against more than 70 individuals and five corporate entities, Justice Department officials said.

(Reporting by Andrew GoudswardEditing by Scott Malone and Alistair Bell)