Whistleblowers could earn up to $5m helping US target Russian oligarchs’ yachts

Europe has already cracked down on oligarch yachts

Josh Marcus
San Francisco
Thursday 17 March 2022 23:59
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Russian billionaire's super yacht seized in Italy

The US government is willing to pay whistelblowers up to $5m for help spotting ill-gotten yachts and other playthings belonging to Russia oligarchs linked to the Kremlin, part of the Biden administration’s financial onslaught against Vladimir Putin following the invasion of Ukraine.

The rewards programme, which was approved by Congress last year, was formally unveiled on Wednesday, and will offer financial compensation to those who help the Treasury Department find assets “linked to corruption involving the government of the Russian Federation.”

There is, of course, a bit of fine print, and not just any tip will earn someone millions from the US government.

The assets must be in the US, held by a US person, or in the possession of a US institution, and information supplied to the Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Rewards Program must lead to the restraint, seizure, of forfeiture of some kind of loot.

Under the programme, ill-gotten assets can include physical ones like jets or yachts, as well as financial assets.

Final decisions on payment will be decided on a case-by-case basis and approved by Treasury secretary Janet Yellen.

This could be a problem, Ross Delston, an independent attorney and expert on anti-money laundering, told VICE, which reported on the programme. If incentives for the tip programme aren’t clear and compelling, those with information might not be willing to challenge these extraordinarily rich and powerful businessmen.

“In order to motivate people to engage in an act that could subject themselves to civil liability, or even criminal liability if they later visit the wrong country, there need to be real incentives, and the incentives should be provided in a transparent and immediate way,” he said. “They can’t be awarded after years of study, and after the case has been brought.”

European nations have already begun cracking down on similar assets believed to be linked to prosecution.

Yachts belonging to Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin; former KGB officer and Rostec chief Sergei Chemezov, former KGB agent Vladimir Strzhalkovksy, industrialist Alisher Usmanov, and fertilizer mogul Andrey Melnichenko have seen their yachts seized or stranded in France, Spain, Norway, Germany, and Italy, respectively, according to an analysis by The Verge.

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