A money laundering trial scheduled to begin Monday in Manhattan Federal Court that prosecutors had said would lay out how millions of dollars was stolen from Russia and hidden in New York is suddenly settled.
That’s according to a weekend announcement by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.
“We will not allow the U.S. financial system to be used to launder the proceeds of crimes committed anywhere – here in the U.S., in Russia, or anywhere else,” said Acting Manhattan U.S. Attorney Joon Kim.
“The defendants have agreed to pay not just what we alleged flowed to them from the Russian treasury fraud, but three times that amount, and roughly 10 times the money we alleged could be traced directly into U.S. accounts and real estate.”
The case against a company called Prevezon charged that they had bought up “high-end commercial space and luxury apartments” with money that was part of $230 million stolen from Russia.
Federal prosecutors had said that the fraud had been uncovered by a Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who died in a Moscow jail “under suspicious circumstances and was posthumously prosecuted by Russia.”
The Russian human rights council headed by then President Dmitry Medvedev concluded that Magnitsky’s arrest and detention had been illegal.
The council had also found that:
• Magnitsky was denied necessary medical care in custody;
• that he was beaten by eight guards with rubber batons on the last day of his life, and
• that the ambulance crew that was called to treat him as he was dying was deliberately kept outside of his cell for more than an hour until he was dead.
The case stemmed from a 2007 Russian tax fraud case – considered the largest in Russian history – in which the identities of companies were stolen and then used to file lawsuits that would be settled for amounts that would be paid from the Russian treasury.
The death of Magnitsky, who had been working for Hermitage,the company whose identity had been stolen, was the impetus for the United States to pass an act in 2012 that sanctioned Russia officials, judges, and investigators connected to human rights abuses.
The Russian government responded by banning then U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara – who had brought the case against Prevezon – from traveling to Russia.
When he announced the case, Bharara said that “a Russian criminal enterprise sought to launder some of its billions in ill-gotten rubles through the purchase of pricey Manhattan real estate.
“While New York is a world financial capital, it is not a safe haven for criminals seeking to hide their loot, no matter how and where their fraud took place.”
While Bharara’s replacement touted that the defendants would be paying more than had allegedly flowed to them, it is significantly less than the suspected value of the real estate they bought with the money.
As part of the settlement, Prevezon was not required to admit any wrongdoing and the government agrees to release them from any civil suits in the future connected with the investigation.