US lawyer pleads guilty to dealing with Russian oligarch under sanctions

NEW YORK – A New York lawyer pleaded guilty on Tuesday to making US$3.8 million (S$5 million) in payments to maintain properties that were beneficially owned by Viktor Vekselberg, a Russian billionaire oligarch under US sanctions, court records showed.

Robert Wise admitted to receiving wire payments from a shell company controlled by a Vekselberg associate, and then using the funds to pay taxes, insurance and other fees on various properties, including two apartments on Manhattan’s Park Avenue and an estate in the Hamptons on New York’s Long Island.

Wise entered his plea before US District Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil in federal court in Manhattan.

His lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“Admission to the bar carries with it a public trust that attorneys will act with honesty and integrity – a trust that Robert Wise chose to betray in exchange for an easy, illicit pay cheque,” said Mr Andrew Adams, who leads a US Department of Justice unit targeting Russia-related sanctions violations.

Prosecutors are cracking down on Russian oligarchs and people who help them park assets in Western countries as part of US to apply pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin to halt his invasion of Ukraine.

Washington imposed sanctions on Mr Vekselberg, who owns the Renova group of energy companies, in 2018 over allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 US election, and in 2022 over his ties to Mr Putin.

The sanctions make it illegal for US people and businesses to carry out business with him without explicit permission.

In April 2022, Spanish police seized Mr Vekselberg’s “Tango” superyacht at the request of US authorities.

The Kremlin denies interfering in the 2016 US election and calls its actions in Ukraine a “special military operation” to protect Russia’s security.

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