U.S. charges Russian oligarch's TV producer with violating Crimea-related sanctions

NEW YORK, March 3 (Reuters) - U.S. prosecutors in Manhattan on Thursday charged a television producer for Konstantin Malofeyev, described as a Russian oligarch, with violating Crimea-related sanctions.

The producer, U.S. citizen John Hanick, was arrested in February in London, and the United States is seeking his extradition. Prosecutors said Hanick was charged with violating U.S. sanctions arising from Russia's 2014 invasion of the Crimean peninsula.

Lawyers for Hanick, Roger Burlingame and Jeffrey Brown, did not immediately reply to requests for comment.

Malofeyev owns Tsargrad TV, a Christian Orthodox television channel. He was placed under U.S. and EU sanctions in 2014 over accusations that he funded pro-Moscow separatists fighting in Ukraine, which he denies. Russia considers such Western sanctions illegal.

"Konstantin Malofeyev is closely tied to Russian aggression in Ukraine," Damian Williams, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a statement. "The indictment unsealed today shows this office's commitment to enforcement of laws intended to hamstring those who would use their wealth to undermine fundamental democratic processes."

The indictment was unsealed the day after the U.S. Department of Justice launched a task force, known as KleptoCapture, aimed at seeking civil and criminal forfeitures of assets belonging to Russian oligarchs who Washington says are enabling Russia's invasion of Ukraine. read more

Hanick, 71, moved to Moscow in 2013 to begin working for Malofeyev and continued to work for him after he was sanctioned the next year, prosecutors said. Malofeyev oversaw his compensation, and Hanick wired some of the payments he received to a bank account in New York, they added.

Hanick stopped working for the television network in 2017, and made false statements about his work with Malofeyev during a February 2021 interview with the FBI, prosecutors said.

Tsargrad TV was involved in a protracted legal dispute with Alphabet Inc's (GOOGL.O) Google after the channel said YouTube had blocked its account in July 2020 without providing a reason. Google said at the time it has a policy of suspending accounts found to violate sanctions or trade restriction rules. read more

A Moscow court said in April that Google must restore Tsargrad's account or face a daily 100,000 rouble ($918.32) fine, which would double each week that Google failed to comply. read more

($1 = 108.8950 roubles)

Reporting by Luc Cohen in New York Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Cynthia Osterman

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Reports on the New York federal courts. Previously worked as a correspondent in Venezuela and Argentina.