Being 2 for 2 in losses this week (The US Election and Time’s “world’s most powerful person), it appears President Obama has fallen back on his regulatory army to take the fight to Vladimir Putin. As WSJ reports, U.S. prosecutors have launched a money-laundering investigation of billionaire Gennady Timchenko – a member of Putin’s inner circle. The allegations are that Timchenko (who was among the first Russian businessmen to be sanctioned by the U.S. following Russia’s intervention in Ukraine’s Crimea region) transferred funds linked to allegedly corrupt deals in Russia through the U.S. financial system. The probe is also examining whether any of Mr. Putin’s personal wealth is connected to allegedly illicit funds.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, aided by the Justice Department, is investigating whether Gennady Timchenko transferred funds linked to allegedly corrupt deals in Russia through the U.S. financial system, the people said.
The prosecutors are probing transactions in which the Geneva-based commodities firm Mr. Timchenko co-founded, Gunvor Group,purchased oil from Russia’s OAO Rosneft and later sold it to third parties, one of the people familiar with the matter said. Investigators have in recent months requested information about the prices Gunvor charged, the person said.
The probe is also examining whether any of Mr. Putin’s personal wealth is connected to allegedly illicit funds, one person said. U.S. officials have previously said that Mr. Putin has investments in Gunvor.
Mr. Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said: “We’re not aware of any investigation, and we’re not following such things.” He dismissed allegations of any financial or business ties between Messrs. Putin and Timchenko, including any investment in Gunvor, as “nonsense.”
Forbes puts Mr. Timchenko’s personal wealth at more than $13 billion. Through another entity, the Luxembourg-based Volga Group, he controls shipping, railway and port interests as well as two luxury hotels in France.
The investigation into Mr. Timchenko comes amid stepped-up efforts by the Justice Department to track and seize assets that are suspected to be the proceeds of corruption. The U.S. moved quickly to dispatch agents and prosecutors to Ukraine to help trace stolen assets after the fall of President Viktor Yanukovych, an ally of Mr. Putin, in February. In April, Attorney General Eric Holder announced the creation of a team of FBI agents dedicated to investigating kleptocracy.
The filing of criminal money-laundering charges would allow the U.S. to obtain an Interpol Red Notice on Mr. Timchenko, which would make him subject to arrest and potential extradition from many countries. Mr. Timchenko told Russian news agency Itar-Tass in August that he’s afraid to travel to much of Europe.
“Alas, there are reasons to be seriously afraid of provocations from the U.S. special services,” he said in the interview. “Believe me,this isn’t speculation, but concrete information, whose details I cannot share with you yet for obvious reasons. But we are working on this issue.”