U.S. seeks to seize $90 million plane owned by Russian oligarch

FILE PHOTO: The skyline is seen in Manhattan, New York City
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By Luc Cohen

NEW YORK (Reuters) -A judge has authorized U.S. prosecutors to seize a $90 million Airbus plane owned by sanctioned Russian oligarch Andrei Skoch, federal prosecutors in Manhattan said on Monday.

Skoch, a member of the Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament, was initially sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department in 2018 for alleged ties to Russian organized criminal groups. Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued further sanctions against Skoch in the wake of Russia's Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine.

Washington has sought to pressure President Vladimir Putin to stop the military campaign by freezing and seizing assets belonging to wealthy Russians.

"U.S. law enforcement has demonstrated that international shell games will not suffice to hide the fruits of corruption and money laundering," Andrew Adams, the federal prosecutor leading the Justice Department's KleptoCapture task force targeting oligarchs' assets, said in a statement.

Skoch - a billionaire and member of the pro-Putin United Russia party - owns the plane through shell companies and trusts tied to his romantic partner, prosecutors said. Reuters could not immediately reach Skoch for comment.

U.S. dollar payments for the registration and insurance of the plane continued to be made between 2018 and 2021, despite the sanctions, prosecutors said.

Moscow calls its activities in Ukraine a "special military operation."

The plane is now in Kazakhstan, court papers show. Kazakhstan's Embassy in the United States did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A 324-foot (98.76-m) yacht that belongs to Skoch in June anchored in Dubai, which has emerged as a refuge for Russian wealth as Western countries ramped up sanctions against Putin allies.

Also in June, a U.S. court issued warrants for the seizure of two luxury planes owned by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich. The KleptoCapture task force has also brought the seized Amadea, a $300-million yacht owned by sanctioned oligarch Suleiman Kerimov, to the United States.

(Reporting by Luc Cohen in New York; Editing by Rosalba O'Brien and Leslie Adler)