A New York attorney faces up to five years in prison after pleading guilty to making payments to maintain U.S. properties secretly owned by a sanctioned Russian oligarch.
Robert Wise was retained by Vladimir Voronchenko—an associate of Viktor Vekselberg, a Russian oligarch sanctioned by the United States in April 2018—to acquire luxury properties in the United States, according an information filed Tuesday by the Department of Justice (DOJ) in the Southern District of New York.
Between 2008 and 2017, Vekselberg obtained the properties by going through shell companies. Wise managed their finances, including paying insurance and property taxes, the DOJ said. The payments for the properties were taken from interest earned on Wise’s lawyer’s trust account, also called an IOLTA account.
After Vekselberg was designated by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, Wise played part in trying to sell a New York apartment and separate estate owned by the oligarch without gaining license from OFAC, the DOJ said.
Wise continued making payments for the properties after Vekselberg was sanctioned. His IOLTA account received funds wired from an account in the Bahamas held under a shell company controlled by Voronchenko. About 25 wire transfers totaling $3.8 million were sent to Wise’s account between June 2018 and March 2022, the information said.
In February, the United States seized Vekselberg’s properties, valued at about $75 million.
Wise pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to commit international money laundering. He agreed to a forfeiture order of nearly $3.8 million, which will be satisfied by a $210,441 payment, the DOJ said.
“With today’s guilty plea, Robert Wise has admitted that he misused his position of trust as a lawyer, laundering money to promote sanctions violations by Viktor Vekselberg’s longtime associate, Vladimir Voronchenko,” U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said in a press release.
Voronchenko was indicted Feb. 7 and is a fugitive.
In January, the DOJ charged Richard Masters, a U.K. businessman, and Vladislav Osipov, of Russia, with trying to hide the ownership of a yacht owned by Vekselberg by using shell companies and third parties.