The United States obtained a warrant to seize a Boeing 737-7EM aircraft owned by PJSC LUKOIL, a Russian multinational oil and gas corporation headquartered in Moscow, Russia. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas authorized the seizure, finding probable cause that the Boeing aircraft was subject to seizure based on violations of federal law.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Commerce issued sanctions against Russia in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The sanctions impose export controls and license requirements to protect U.S. national security and foreign policy interests. The Russia sanctions expanded prohibitions on the export, reexport or in-country transfer of, among other things, U.S.-manufactured aircraft to or within Russia without a valid license or license exception.
According to court documents, LUKOIL owns the Boeing aircraft – bearing the tail number VP-CLR and the manufacturer serial number 34865 – which flew into and out of Russia in violation of the Department of Commerce’s sanctions against Russia.
The Boeing last flew into the United States in March 2019 when the plane flew from overseas to Houston, Texas with LUKOIL officials, including a Russian oligarch – then LUKOIL president and CEO Vagit Alekperov – on board the aircraft. The Boeing is believed to be in Russia and worth approximately $45 million. Since September 2014, LUKOIL has been subject to sectoral sanctions imposed by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.
The seizure action is being coordinated through the Justice Department’s Task Force KleptoCapture, an interagency law enforcement task force dedicated to enforcing the sweeping sanctions, export controls and economic countermeasures that the United States, along with its foreign allies and partners, has imposed in response to Russia’s unprovoked military invasion of Ukraine. Announced by the Attorney General on March 2 and run out of the Office of the Deputy Attorney General, the task force will continue to leverage all the department’s tools and authorities to combat efforts to evade or undermine the collective actions taken by the U.S. government in response to Russian military aggression.
The FBI’s Houston Field Office, the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security and U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations in Houston are investigating the seizure matter.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys John Pearson and Brandon L. Fyffe of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas and Trial Attorneys Lindsay M. Heck and Sinan Kalayoglu of the Criminal Division’s Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section are leading the seizure action. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, the FBI’s New York Field Office and the Federal Aviation Administration provided significant assistance.