U.S. wants to seize assets tied to Russian tax refund scheme

Tue Sep 10, 2013 2:15pm EDT

* Seeks forfeiture of assets of 11 companies

* Includes luxury apartments, commercial spaces in New York

* Scam linked to death of Russian lawyer Magnitsky

By Bernard Vaughan

NEW YORK, Sept 10 (Reuters) - U.S. authorities are looking to seize luxury apartments and other property that they say was used by Russian companies to launder proceeds from a $230 million tax fraud.

The scheme was uncovered by Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer who died in a Russian jail, U.S. prosecutors said in a civil complaint filed in New York on Tuesday.

"As alleged, a Russian criminal enterprise sought to launder some of its billions in ill-gotten rubles through the purchase of pricey Manhattan real estate," Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement.

According to the complaint, the organization stole the corporate identities belonging to the Hermitage Fund, an investment fund operating in Russia, and used them to make fraudulent claims for tax refunds.

The organization included officials at two Russian tax offices who approved the refunds of approximately $230 million, according to the complaint.

The complaint said Magnitsky, who was hired by Hermitage to investigate, faced retaliatory criminal proceedings after uncovering the scheme and the involvement of Russian officials. He died on Nov. 16, 2009, while in pretrial detention.

"While New York is a world financial capital, it is not a safe haven for criminals seeking to hide their loot, no matter how and where their fraud took place," Bharara said.

Lawyers for the defendant companies, which include Prevezon Holdings Ltd, could not immediately be reached for comment.

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