U.S. 'KleptoCapture' unit to target banks that aid and abet Russian oligarchs

WASHINGTON, March 11 (Reuters) - A U.S. "KleptoCapture" task force has more targets in mind than just the Russian oligarchs who have enabled Moscow's attack on Ukraine, a senior official said on Friday, and warned it will also prosecute banks or cryptocurrency exchanges that aid and abet them.

"Our goal is to bring any appropriate charge against any sanctioned Russian oligarch or entity, and those who would help them to evade economic sanctions," the Department of Justice official told reporters in a briefing.

"Actors who stick their heads in the sand, or blind themselves to moving dirty money may face money laundering charges for their role in concealing those proceeds," he said.

Banks, financial firms and cryptocurrency exchanges that fail to maintain adequate anti-money laundering policies could easily find themselves "in the crosshairs of this investigation," he said.

The task force, unveiled on March 2 days after Russia's invasion of Ukraine and as the West imposed sanctions on Moscow as punishment, will be led by Andrew Adams, a veteran federal prosecutor in New York City. read more

The headquarters of the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) in Washington, D.C., U.S., May 10, 2021. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

On Friday the Justice Department announced that attorneys David Lim and Michael Khoo will serve as its deputies.

Named from the word "kleptocracy," a reference to corrupt people who misuse their powers to accumulate wealth, the team of prosecutors and investigators aim to disrupt Russian oligarchs who have enabled Russian President Vladimir Putin's government.

In addition to pursuing charges such as money laundering, sanctions evasion and wire fraud, the task force will trace assets that are tied to federal crimes impacting the U.S. financial system and seek to seize them through civil and criminal forfeitures.

The official cautioned that just because oligarchs are subject to U.S. sanctions does not mean the Justice Department can simply seize their property.

"Simply being blocked, or simply belonging to a known oligarch is not in itself sufficient for the Department of Justice to forfeit that property or to obtain a seizure warrant," the official said.

Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; editing by Grant McCool

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