U.S. charges Russian oligarch with violating sanctions, disrupts botnet

WASHINGTON, April 6 (Reuters) - The U.S. Justice Department has charged Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeyev with violating sanctions imposed on Russia after its invasion of Ukraine, saying on Wednesday he provided financing for Russians promoting separatism in Crimea.

Attorney General Merrick Garland said authorities had also disrupted a type of global malicious computer network known as a "botnet" controlled by a Russian military intelligence agency.

"The Justice Department will continue to use all of its authorities to hold accountable Russian oligarchs and others who seek to evade U.S. sanctions," Garland told reporters in Washington.

The department last month launched a federal "KleptoCapture" task force that is working to further strain the finances of Russia's oligarchs to pressure the country to cease its invasion of Ukraine.

Russia says it launched a "special military operation" in Ukraine on Feb. 24, which Ukraine and Western countries say was an unprovoked attack.

U.S. authorities have long accused Malofeyev of being one of the main sources of financing for Russians promoting separatism in Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014.

Malofeyev tried to evade American sanctions by using co-conspirators to secretly acquire media organizations across Europe, Garland said. U.S. authorities seized millions of dollars from an account at an American financial institution that are traceable to the sanctions violations, the attorney general said.

The announcement comes two days after Spanish police impounded a superyacht belonging to Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg on behalf of American authorities, the first time the U.S. seized property belonging to a Russian oligarch since its invasion of Ukraine in February.

Discussing the Russian military intelligence botnet, Garland said U.S. authorities were able to disable it before it could be weaponized.

"The Russian government has recently used similar infrastructure to attack Ukrainian targets," he said. "Fortunately, we were able to disrupt this botnet before it was used."

Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch and Jan Wolfe; Editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Thomson Reuters

Sarah N. Lynch is the lead reporter for Reuters covering the U.S. Justice Department out of Washington, D.C. During her time on the beat, she has covered everything from the Mueller report and the use of federal agents to quell protesters in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, to the rampant spread of COVID-19 in prisons and the department's prosecutions following the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.