It takes two to tango
The arrest of Richard Masters and Vladislav Osipov for facilitating sanctions evasion has sent shockwaves through the industry…
On Friday, the 20th of January, the United States Department of Justice announced that they had arrested well-known industry figure Richard Masters, Founder of Master Yachts, and businessman Vladislav Osipov, for facilitating a sanctions evasion and money laundering scheme. The allegations are in relation to the 77m M/Y Tango which is reportedly owned by the Russian Oligarch Viktor Vekselberg. The United States requested that the Kingdom of Spain provisionally arrest Masters for purposes of extradition.
The defendants are charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States and to commit offences against the United States, violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), and money laundering. However, it should also be noted that an indictment is merely an allegation. All defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
According to various sources, The Guardia Civil arrested Masters in the early hours of Friday morning and was flown to Madrid where he underwent questioning. Richard Masters is yet to be extradited to the US and his company Master Yachts has not yet offered a statement to the press.
The news all but confirms that the great yacht hunt is far from over. The FBI appear to be relentless in their pursuit of anyone who appears to be in business with any high net-worth Russian individuals, regardless of how many degrees of separation lie between them and Vladamir Putin. With that being said, the yachting industry has continued to deal with sanctioned individuals despite numerous warnings from Western governments.
The political messaging of the sanction fallout has not just been about sanctioning Russians because of the war in Ukraine - this is merely a smaller part of the story wrapped up in a bigger conversation about kleptocrats and their ties with the West. The US Justice Department’s special task force ‘Kleptocapture’ implies that they are seeking to bring justice to anyone who uses their power to steal countries' resources. However, so far, the task force has been primarily focused on those who are involved with high-profile, wealthy Russians.
Many of those operating in the sphere of the industry are arguing that politicians are turning a blind eye to struggling businesses and blue-collar workers in favour of positive PR and self-interest. The sanction fallout is morally correct, but its execution has been strategically flawed and incredibly fast-paced. Rumours have circulated about various renowned businesses continuing to work with Oligarch clients and going as far as relocating to places such as The Middle East under a new name in order to continue to operate. While Masters and Osipov are amongst the first to be arrested, it is unlikely that they will be the last.
FBI Deputy Director Paul Abbate stated, “The FBI, along with our international partners, will continue to aggressively investigate and pursue anyone who facilitates the corrupt practices of others, placing our institutions at risk.”
According to the indictment, despite U.S. sanctions issued against Vekselberg in April 2018, Osipov and Masters facilitated the operation of Tango through the use of U.S. companies and the U.S. financial system, attempting to obfuscate Vekselberg’s involvement in the vessel. Spanish law enforcement executed a Spanish court order freezing Tango until April 4, 2022
Masters boldly used the name “the Fanta,” in order to hide from financial institutions. This resulted in the U.S. financial institutions processing hundreds of thousands of dollars of transactions for Tango that they otherwise would not have permitted had they known of Vekselberg’s involvement in the financial transaction.
Additionally, according to the indictment, Osipov and Masters advised and enabled Tango employees to continue to do business with numerous U.S. companies, using various workarounds to avoid sanctions, such as payments in other currencies and through third parties. As a result of these schemes, the working mechanisms of Tango, including its internet, technology, weather forecasting and computing systems, as well as the trappings of Tango, including its satellite television, luxury goods, and teleconferencing software, were all U.S.-origin products and services supplied by U.S. companies, for the benefit of Vekselberg.
Whatever an individual's moral stance is on the fairness of these arrests, it appears that the department of justice is using a relatively black-and-white interpretation of the sanctions law, and are not unwilling to exercise the full might of the FBI. The ultimate outcome of Richard Masters and Vladislav Osipov’s court case is yet to be realised, however, it's fair to say that a warning shot has been fired across the bow of the industry.
According to The Mallorca Daily Bulletin, The US authorities had asked the court for his immediate extradition, but the judge, Alejandro Abascal, has not granted this. The prosecutor in the case requested that he be ordered to prison, however, the judge didn't accept this either, so around 2 pm on Saturday his release was decreed.
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