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FBI searches Washington, New York homes connected to Russian oligarch

WASHINGTON - FBI agents on Tuesday searched two homes connected to sanctioned Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska - one in Washington and one in New York - as part of an unspecified criminal investigation into the activities of a man who has not set foot on U.S. soil in years, according to documents, interviews and people familiar with the investigation.

Deripaska, a politically connected tycoon whose name came up repeatedly in recent investigations involving Russia and the 2016 presidential campaign of Donald Trump, is tied to the home on 30th Street NW through a company incorporated in Delaware, according to property records. Property records also link him to a home in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Manhattan that officials said was also searched Tuesday.

In Washington, yellow police tape stretched around the mansion near Embassy Row, and an FBI spokeswoman confirmed that agents were conducting law enforcement activity at that location. A person familiar with the investigation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the case is pending, said the law enforcement activity is part of an ongoing criminal investigation.

A spokeswoman for Deripaska, Larisa Belyaeva, said via text message that the FBI "is carrying out a search of two houses - located in Washington and New York - belonging to Mr. Deripaska's relatives. The searches are being carried out on the basis of two court orders, connected to U.S. sanctions. The houses do not belong to Mr. Deripaska."

Deripaska is a billionaire and has long been a key ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Deripaska also did business for years with Paul Manafort, Trump's onetime campaign chairman, although he and Deripaska eventually had a falling out.

The Washington Post has previously reported that Deripaska was known to neighbors on the street as the owner of the home and that he directed major renovations and has visited the house several times since 2010. A New York-based company called Gracetown that oversaw the property in 2017 was run by a business associate of Deripaska's, according to corporate filings.

Deripaska's effort to free himself from U.S. sanctions imposed in 2018 failed in federal court earlier this year. He challenged his inclusion in a Treasury Department report on Russian oligarchs, saying the accusations were based on rumors and innuendo and that the sanctions had devastated him financially, according to his suit filed in U.S. District Court in Washington.

In June, U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta tossed out the claim, finding that the Treasury Department had sufficient basis for its decision and that the businessman lacked standing or evidence to back some of his claims.

The U.S. government in 2019 removed some Deripaska-linked companies from sanctions after he reduced his ownership stakes, but the United States maintained sanctions on Deripaska himself.

In a January 2020 letter to Deripaska's lawyers, the U.S. Treasury Department justified sanctions by citing reports that Deripaska helped Putin launder money, the Financial Times reported. The department's Office of Foreign Assets Control wrote that in 2016 Deripaska was "reportedly identified as one of the individuals holding assets and laundering funds on behalf of Russian President Vladimir Putin." It said the businessman reportedly once canceled the IPO listing of a company, Gaz, to hide Putin's money laundering.

What role, if any, Deripaska may have played in the 2016 U.S. presidential race remained one of the lingering mysteries of special counsel Robert Mueller's probe into Russian election interference.

Mueller's team was particularly interested in an August 2016 meeting between Manafort and his longtime associate, Konstantin Kilimnik, a person the FBI has said has ties to Russian intelligence. Investigators found Manafort gave Kilimnik internal polling data intended for Deripaska and others, according to Mueller's report and court records.

Deripaska has denied receiving any inside information about the Trump campaign, and Kilimnik has denied any ties to Russian intelligence.

Manafort and Deripaska have both confirmed they had a business relationship in which Manafort was paid as an investment consultant. In 2014, Deripaska accused Manafort in a Cayman Islands court of taking nearly $19 million intended for investments without accounting for how it was used.

When Manafort reappeared in the headlines around April 2016, he was serving as an unpaid adviser to the Trump campaign.

In emails sent that spring and summer, Manafort tried to offer "private briefings" about the presidential race to Deripaska - apparently, as one of the emails put it, to "get whole," according to court records and the Mueller report.

Deripaska, 53, was among seven Russian oligarchs sanctioned in 2018 by the U.S. Treasury Department, which also targeted several of his companies, including Rusal, one of the world's largest aluminum conglomerates.

The department said it acted in response to "Russia's worldwide malign activity," including its sweeping 2016 U.S. election interference campaign and cyberattacks. It noted Deripaska's close ties to the Kremlin, saying he had acted "on behalf of . . . a senior Russian government official," i.e. Putin, and claimed in various instances to be acting on behalf of the government.

The Treasury Department said at the time: "Deripaska has been investigated for money laundering, and has been accused of threatening the lives of business rivals, illegally wiretapping a government official, and taking part in extortion and racketeering."

Although the United States delisted Rusal when Deripaska shed holdings, European officials last December provided information to Washington indicating that Deripaska continued to be involved, Bloomberg News reported. The company and Deripaska denied the report, but U.S. officials were reviewing the information, Bloomberg said.

Greg Miller in Washington and Shayna Jacobs in New York contributed to this report.

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