FBI agents and Guardia Civil officers at Adolfo Suárez–Madrid Barajas Airport / GC

British man arrested in Spain, accused of being front man for Russian oligarch close to Putin

Richard Masters was arrested by Guardia Civil officers and FBI agents at Madrid’s Barajas airport

MELCHOR SAIZ-PARDO MADRID.

There has been a huge claimed hit by Spain’s Guardia Civil, along with FBI and Homeland Security Investigation (HSI) teams from the United States against the networks that the Kremlin and Russian magnates are using to try to bypass the international embargo introduced after the country’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

The security forces, within the framework of Operation Magnolia, arrested a British citizen, Richard Masters, at the Adolfo Suárez–Madrid Barajas Airport (Madrid) on Friday. who supposedly acted as a figurehead in Spain for one of the great Russian oligarchs, Víktor Vekselberg, a well-known magnate with interests in the oil, energy and telecommunications sectors and in the circle closest to Putin.

Primarily, Masters, 52, is accused of having hidden, through his luxury boat management company based in Palma and a complicated corporate network, that the megayacht Tango, seized on the island in April 2022 after the invasion of Ukraine, was actually owned by Vekselberg.

Spain’s National Court released Masters on Sunday, although it withdrew his passport as a precautionary measure while his extradition to the United States is being resolved.

According to reports from the investigation team, the arrested man hid the true ownership of the Tango - valued at 90 million dollars, 77 metres long with four decks, flying a flag of the Cook Islands - behind a company located in the Virgin Islands, which, in turn, manages a firm in Panama, which would ultimately be controlled by Masters on behalf of the oligarch.

The British man's arrest occurred at the request of US authorities in Washington, which since 2014 has focused on Vekselberg's opaque businesses, for the crimes of fraud, violation of the US International Emergency Economic Powers Act and money laundering, under the legal laws of that country, for the imposition and enforcement of the sanctions imposed on individuals and legal entities of Russian origin.

Vekselberg was already subject to a sanction in April 2018, by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), of the US Department of the Treasury, after the annexation of the Crimean peninsula by the Russian Federation in 2014, and again, after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

"The object of the sanction is the actions of this Russian citizen for or in favour of the government of the Russian Federation, as well as for his operations of a technological nature in said State," Spain’s Ministry of the Interior said today.

Tango, a 78-metre-long yacht, with a value estimated at 90 million euros. / GUARDIA CIVIL

The fake Fanta

The detained British man is the owner and administrator of a commercial company based on the Palma seafront, Master Yachts, dedicated to the maintenance and provision of administrative services to boats. Among his clients and managed vessels, the oligarch's yacht, which was used by Vekselberg and his family circle, had long been on the books.

"Likewise, the company of the detainee provided services aimed at satisfying the personal needs of the owner and users of the yacht with knowledge of the existence of the existing sanctions and prohibitions on this person," explained the Guardia Civil today, which accuses Masters of hiding the true ownership of the yacht under a false name, the Fanta, so as not to arouse suspicion. In this way, it provided services and goods to the yacht itself, to its owner and its users, for a value of US$485,149.03, according to US authorities.

It is also claimed that the arrested man and his company received considerable profits by approving and coordinating the yacht's annual operating budget, which stated that a large part of said budget was allocated to the fees paid to the yacht's management company itself.

Investigators estimate that Masters and his company earned approximately more than 800,000 euros for the administration of the yacht.