sanctions against Russian oligarchs begin to bear fruit in France

It is a first battle won in the long and delicate economic and judicial war waged by Westerners against the supporters of the Russian regime: French justice has obtained the first criminal seizure of the villa of a Russian oligarch placed under sanctions. Located in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat (Alpes-Maritimes), this luxurious residence, estimated at 23 million euros, was seized in October 2022 at the request of the magistrates of the national jurisdiction responsible for the fight against organized crime (Junalco) of the Paris prosecutor’s office, according to information from the World. Viktor Rachnikov, majority shareholder of one of the largest steel producers in Russia, is suspected of being the owner.

Three real estate properties officially linked to Mr. Rachnikov had already been administratively frozen on the Côte d’Azur and in Paris since his placement under sanctions on March 15, 2022. The villa in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat had gone under the radars, since she was not “not declared to the tax authorities as being his property”, according to a source familiar with the matter; it belonged to a Swiss company, itself owned by a Panamanian structure. Tracfin was informed of the sale of the villa, which took place shortly after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The French financial intelligence unit realized that, behind the complex arrangements, the villa belonged to a Russian citizen suspected of being Viktor Rachnikov’s front man, and that the new owner is also Russian. Tracfin then immediately blocked the money from the sale at the notary – 17 million euros after deduction of duties and taxes – before going to court.

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The magistrates of Junalco, who inherited this file, consider that the very great complexity of this “suspicious transaction” was destined “to conceal the origin of the funds and the beneficial owner of the operation”. The villa and the proceeds from the sale are now in the hands of the Agency for the Management and Recovery of Seized and Confiscated Assets of the Ministry of Justice. If convicted by a court, they could be permanently confiscated by the State.

Long-term investigative work

The Rachnikov dossier is not an isolated case. According to information from World, at least seventeen investigations have been opened by French justice against Russian businessmen for suspicion of money laundering, since the invasion in Ukraine. Four have been opened since the start of 2023, proof that this investigative work is a long-term one.

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