A federal judge in New York on Monday authorised the US government to seize two private jets owned by Roman Abramovich, after they flew to Russia following its invasion of Ukraine, officials said.
The order from Judge Sarah Cave, based in Manhattan, is one of several sanctions from the US and other western countries aimed at billionaires from Russia since the invasion in February, The Guardian UK reports.
Requested by federal agents in New York’s southern US district, Cave’s mandate centres on a Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner and a Gulfstream G650ER that both belong to Abramovich, who is a close associate of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin.
Abramovich is the former owner of English Premier League club, Chelsea.
US justice department prosecutors said in a statement both jets flew to Russia in March, violating export restrictions the US imposed on Putin’s regime over its attack on Ukraine.
It is unclear when American officials might be able to take away Abramovich’s jets as long as they avoid the US or one of the territories that the country controls. The Boeing, worth $350m, is in Dubai, the justice department said in federal court filings. The Gulfstream, worth $60m, is in Russia.
Abramovich owns the planes through shell companies rooted in Cyprus, Jersey and the British Virgin Islands, the US justice department said. Besides seizing the jets, the department said, government prosecutors are seeking penalties of up twice their value.
The assistant director of the FBI, Michael Driscoll, said in a statement that Russian oligarchs like Abramovich “have helped foster an environment that enabled Russia to pursue its deadly war in Ukraine”.
“The seizure of their valuable possessions, including these two aircraft, is just one way the US government holds accountable those who break US laws and support Russia in its attempt to conquer a sovereign nation.”
Abramovich, 55, could not immediately be reached for comment.
The oligarch is perhaps best known for owning Chelsea football club from 2003 until earlier this year.
The west London club won a plethora of honours under his ownership, including five Premier League titles, five FA Cups and the prestigious Uefa Champions League twice. Premier League officials disqualified Abramovich from owning Chelsea after the UK imposed sanctions on him after the Ukraine invasion.
Last month, the British government approved Chelsea’s sale to Todd Boehly, a co-owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers in Major League Baseball. Boehly reportedly paid more than $4bn in what is thought to be the most expensive sale of a sports team in history.