This week, law enforcement agencies and financial regulators pulled no punches anywhere in the world, as a Dominican citizen pleaded guilty in a US court to heading up an international money laundering syndicate; Fijian authorities seized a sanctioned Russian oligarch's superyacht; and the UK government sanctioned an Irish journalist for his links with Russian media.
Find out more on these stories below.
Dominican Republic citizen pleads guilty in a US court to leading a global money laundering enterprise
On the 4th of May 2022, Luis Velazquez-Cordero, a citizen of the Dominican Republic, pleaded guilty in a US District Court to being the kingpin of an international money laundering organisation. Based in the Caribbean nation, from which Velazquez-Cordero was extradited to face US charges in 2020, the criminal gang laundered the profits of illegal narcotics sales - an estimated $80m (£64.83m) - through the US banking system on behalf of global drug trafficking syndicates.
Velazquez-Cordero pleaded guilty to a single indictment of conspiracy to commit money laundering, and the charges described his role as being one to direct “conspirators in New Jersey, New York, and Florida to pick up cash drug proceeds and exchange the cash for cashier’s cheques at United States banks.” The accused’s modus operandi for the so-called ‘cashier’s cheque scheme’ was explained as follows:
- He provided the cash amounts for - and recipients of - each cheque, and the bank accounts into which they were deposited.
- His agents deposited the cheques into the recipients’ accounts, which were frequently run by shell companies
- The scheme was strategically constructed to conceal the origins, destination, and true ownership of the funds from financial institutions and law enforcement.
Velazquez-Cordero’s plea deal included agreeing to the forfeiture of five properties in the Dominican Republic, 10 vehicles and $1.4m (£1.13m) in US currency.
Additionally, when he is sentenced later in 2022, he faces up to 20 years in prison, and a minimum fine of $500,000 (£405,200).
Fijian authorities seize sanctioned Russian oligarch’s luxury superyacht
On the 5th of May 2022, Fijian law enforcement agents (LEAs) seized the Amadea, sanctioned Russian billionaire businessman Suleiman Abusaidovich Kerimov’s $300m (£243.12m), 348-foot (106.1 meter) motor yacht, at its berth in the port of the coastal city of Lautoka. The LEAs were acting on court orders issued by the Suva High Court earlier in the week, in response to a request by the U.S. Department of Justice.
The US Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), which designated Kerimov on at least one of its sanctions lists, believe he is part of a loose band of Russian oligarchs who profit from corruption in President Vladimir Putin’s government and from Russia’s destructive activities in several parts of the world. OFAC also claims he is a Russian government official.
The Fiji operation the latest in a sequence of actions by western governments intent on ending Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Andrew Adams, the Director of the US Task Force KleptoCapture (founded by US President Joe Biden in March 2022) was emphatic that the Amadea seizure “nearly 8,000 miles (12,875 km) from Washington, D.C., symbolizes the reach of the Department of Justice as we continue to work with our global partners to disrupt the sense of impunity of those who have supported corruption and the suffering of so many.”
UK Government designates Russian media-linked Irish journalist on latest sanctions list
On Thursday the 5th of May 2022, the UK government released its updated raft of sanctions, which included Kilkenny-born Irish journalist Bryan MacDonald. MacDonald was included because of his position at the helm of the English language edition news desk of Russia’s state-run RT media network, formerly known as Russia Today.
The HM Treasury, explained their position as follows:
“RT obtains a benefit from or supports the Government of Russia as it is carrying on business as a Government of Russia affiliated entity, and/or in the Russian information, communications and digital technologies sector which is a sector of strategic significance to the Government of Russia. As an employee of RT, McDonald is therefore associated with an involved person.”
While other RT journalists have quit the organisation in protest against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, MacDonald’s stance is not yet clear, although he did apologise for his imprecise predictions on whether military action would ensue or not.
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