September 17, 2019

Russian Oligarch Sues the U.S. Over Sanctions

Russian Oligarch Sues the U.S. Over Sanctions


WASHINGTON — Oleg V. Deripaska, a Russian oligarch with close ties to the Kremlin, sued the United States government on Friday, demanding it lift sanctions that he claimed have cost him billions of dollars, made him “radioactive” in international business circles and exposed him to criminal investigation and asset confiscation in Russia.

In a lawsuit filed in United States District Court in Washington, Mr. Deripaska said that the sanctions, leveled in April by the Treasury Department, should be struck down because they deprived him of due process and relied on unproven smears that fell outside the sanctions program.

The lawsuit called Mr. Deripaska “the latest victim of this country’s political infighting and ongoing reaction to Russia’s purported interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections,” and asserted that “the general hysteria surrounding Deripaska prevents him from having a meaningful opportunity to challenge” the sanctions “through the normal channels for doing so.”

The sanctions were imposed in retaliation for “a range of malign activity around the globe” by Russia, including its election interference and its incursions into neighboring Ukraine, Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, said at the time.

The sanctions hit seven oligarchs and their companies, including Mr. Deripaska, the giant aluminum company he controlled, Rusal, as well as the holding company that owns it, EN+, and another company it controls.

After an intensive lobbying and legal campaign, Mr. Deripaska’s companies — but not Mr. Deripaska personally — were granted sanctions relief late last year by the Treasury Department.

Yet Mr. Deripaska argued in Friday’s lawsuit that he did not think he could get a fair shake from the same appeals process because of “overt bias” demonstrated against the oligarch by Mr. Mnuchin and his department. The lawsuit was filed against the secretary, the Treasury Department, its Office of Foreign Assets Control and Andrea M. Gacki, the director of that office.

The Treasury Department did not respond to a request for comment.

Sanctions experts gave the lawsuit low odds of success.

Such a suit “gets to presidential authority that usually isn’t able to be challenged like that,” said Brian O’Toole, who served during the Obama administration as a senior adviser to the Office of Foreign Assets Control. “Gonna be a lot of lawyers’ fees for no result,” he wrote on Twitter.

The lawsuit came even as Democrats continued demanding information from Mr. Mnuchin and the Treasury Department about the deal under which Mr. Deripaska’s companies were removed from sanctions.

The deal was billed by Treasury as penalizing Mr. Deripaska by separating him from the companies, while allowing the companies — which play an important role in global aluminum markets — to survive.

But a binding confidential document signed by both sides revealed that the deal would leave Mr. Deripaska and his allies with majority ownership of EN+. The agreement would transfer 1.64 percent of the shares of the company, valued at about $100 million, to an entity called the Liberi Foundation, which company officials said is a trust for Mr. Deripaska’s children.

At a Senate Finance Committee hearing on Thursday, Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, questioned Mr. Mnuchin about the transfer of shares to the trust.

“It sure looks like Mr. Deripaska’s children are benefiting from a sanctions effort meant to punish him,” Mr. Wyden said, calling the sanctions relief deal “a Keystone Kops-level sanction enforcement.”

Mr. Mnuchin rejected the characterization.

“I can assure you it wasn’t a Keystone Kops effort,” he said, explaining that career Treasury officials at the Office of Foreign Assets Control worked hard to draft a deal that would sufficiently punish Mr. Deripaska.

Mr. Mnuchin said he would follow up with Mr. Wyden next week with more information about the transfer of shares to the trust fund for Mr. Deripaska’s children.

On Friday, Mr. Mnuchin announced sanctions against six Russian officials and eight entities related to “Russia’s continued and ongoing aggression in Ukraine,” including its seizure of Ukrainian naval vessels in a shared waterway late last year.

Defenders of the Trump administration’s approach to Russia sanctions pointed to Mr. Deripaska’s lawsuit as evidence that the Treasury Department has not gone easy on the oligarch.

The lawsuit claims that the effect of the sanctions “has been the wholesale devastation of Deripaska’s wealth, reputation and economic livelihood.” That includes reducing his net worth by more than $7.5 billion — or approximately 81 percent — while pushing his remaining businesses “to the brink of collapse, as banks refuse to extend them loans and counterparties terminate their relationships with them,” the lawsuit said.

The Treasury Department justified the sanctions partly by citing accusations against Mr. Deripaska of bribery, links to organized crime and even murder. But Mr. Deripaska’s lawyers described the accusations as “nothing more than false rumor and innuendo and originate from decades-old defamatory attacks originated by his business competitors,” and “completely untethered” from the claims of aiding Russia’s malign activities.

The Treasury Department, Mr. Deripaska contended, did not try to link him to “the interference of democratic processes, nor has Deripaska been charged anywhere in the world for doing so.”





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