WASHINGTON, September 10 (RIA Novosti) – US prosecutors said Tuesday they are seeking to seize expensive New York properties purportedly purchased with funds stolen from Russian coffers in an alleged scam detailed by whistleblowing lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, whose 2009 death in a Russian jail has sparked a diplomatic rift between Washington and Moscow.
“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,” Preet Bharara, the US District Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said Tuesday in announcing the civil action.
The properties, including four luxury residences and two upscale commercial spaces, were used to launder some of the $230 million in Russian government money that Magnitsky alleged were embezzled in a tax fraud involving Russian law enforcement and tax officials, Bharara’s office claimed in a complaint filed in US federal court Tuesday.
Prosecutors say a Cyprus-based company, Prevezon Holdings, purchased the properties in a complex attempt to obscure the origins of the money and are seeking to seize the real estate and impose fines as part of the so-called “civil forfeiture” complaint filed Tuesday.
According to a report last year by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, an international investigative journalism consortium, Prevezon is owned by Denis Katsyv, son of Pyotr Katsyv, an official who oversees the Moscow Region’s cooperation with the Russian federal government.
Denis Katsyv and his spokesman told the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project that he was the owner of Prevezon but denied that he has any connection “with any transactions related to the alleged frauds behind the Magnitsky matter” and that “neither he nor any members of his family” have benefited from the Magnitsky case.
Magnitsky, who worked as a tax lawyer for the British investment fund Hermitage Capital Management in Russia, was arrested in 2008 on tax evasion charges after exposing what he believed was a $230 million tax fraud carried out by Russian officials.
He died in disputed circumstances while in pretrial custody in 2009, but nevertheless was subsequently prosecuted on tax evasion and embezzlement charges and convicted by a Moscow court in July.
In a statement Tuesday, Magnitsky’s boss at Hermitage, William Browder, called US prosecutors’ bid to seize the New York City real estate a “dramatic escalation in the fight to hold accountable the people who killed Sergei Magnitsky.”
“Since the Russian government has tried to cover up Sergei Magnitsky’s murder, the only chance for justice has been outside of Russia,” Browder said, The Associated Press reported.
Russian President Vladimir Putin in April said that Magnitsky’s death was a “tragedy” but insisted no crime had been committed.
“There was no torture,” Putin said. “There was nothing that would demand any criminal charges being brought.”
In December the United States adopted the Magnitsky Act, which slaps travel and financial sanctions on Russian officials and other individuals believed to have been involved in Magnistky’s death, the case against him and other human rights abuses. Russia quickly responded in part by banning US citizens from adopting Russian children.
In April, Washington published a list of 18 Russian citizens targeted under the sanctions, prompting Moscow to release its own list 18 US citizens barred from entering Russia and facing a freeze of any assets they may hold in Russia.
The Russian blacklist includes Bharara, the US prosecutor leading the bid to seize the Manhattan properties allegedly tied to the Magnitsky affair.