US indicts Russian oligarch and seizes Putin ally’s yacht – live | FBI

10:52

US indicts Russian oligarch; seizes megayacht and millions of dollars in Russian assets

The US has indicted a Russian oligarch it says is responsible for spreading the Kremlin’s misinformation around the world, as well as seizing a megayacht belonging to another of Vladimir Putin’s allies, and millions of dollars in assets they held, as the war in Ukraine rages on.

US attorney general Merrick Garland made the announcements today at a press conference at the justice department to announce actions “to prosecute criminal Russian activity.”

He also said that the US and its allies has broken up a massive attempted malware attack that Russia intended to unleash internationally, causing unprecedented disruption of the internet and causing tens of billions of dollars in damages globally.

“Our message to those who continue to enable the Russian regime through their criminal conduct is this: It does not matter how far you sail your yacht. It does not matter how well you conceal your assets. It does not matter how cleverly you write your malware or hide your online activity. The justice department will use every available tool to find you, disrupt your plots and hold you accountable,” Garland said.

The conspiracy charges have been filed against the Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeyev, who was previously the subject of US sanctions for spreading Russian misinformation.

Garland said he is “one of the main sources of financing for Russians promoting separatism in Crimea and for providing material support for the so called Donetsk People’s Republic.

“After being sanctioned by the US, Malofeyev attempted to evade the sanctions by using co-conspirators to surreptitiously acquire and run media outlets across Europe.”

Garland said the US had seized millions of dollars from an account at a US financial institution which the indictment alleges constitutes proceeds traceable to Malofeyev’s sanctions violations.

Meanwhile, the $90m megayacht Tango, belonging to the Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg, a close ally of Putin, was seized in Mallorca on Monday. Vekselberg was sanctioned in 2018 for money laundering, and again last month after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The malware attack was targeted largely at small businesses with an intention to spreading a massive, attempted denial of service attack intended to disrupt the internet internationally and cause at least $10bn in damages.

“The global botnet [was] controlled by the Russian military intelligence agency, commonly known as the GRU,” Garland said, noting the Russian government had recently used similar infrastructure to attack Ukrainian targets.

“Fortunately, we were able to disrupt this botnet before it could be used. Thanks to our close work with international partners, we were able to detect the infection of thousands of network hardware devices. We are then able to disable the GRU’s control over those devices before the botnet could be weaponized,” he said.

11:47

Good news for former students still wrestling with college and university loans: the Biden administration has, as expected, extended a pause on repayments until the end of August.

The student debt crisis in the US is to blame at least in part for the president’s slumping approval ratings, and experts have warned of a looming disaster once repayments were forced to begin again following the moratorium for the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The Department of Education is committed to ensuring that student loan borrowers have a smooth transition back to repayment. This additional extension will allow borrowers to gain more financial security as the economy continues to improve and as the nation continues to recover from the pandemic,” the education secretary Miguel Cardona said in a press release.

Student loan debt in the US totals $189tn, the education department says, with more than 43m former and current students owing an average of more than $37,000 each. The extension halts repayments, interest and collections.

11:32

New US sanctions target Putin’s adult children

Two of Russian president Vladimir Putin’s adult children are included in a new round of “devastating” sanctions the Biden administration announced on Wednesday.

The penalties, in partnership with the UK and the European Union, also targeted two of Russia’s largest banks, Sberbank and Alfa, preventing the banks’ assets going through their financial systems.

There is also a ban on new investment in Russia and a European embargo on coal, according to an Associated Press analysis of the measures:

In addition to sanctions aimed at Putin’s adult daughters, Mariya Putina and Katerina Tikhonova, the US is targeting prime minister Mikhail Mishustin; the wife and children of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov; and members of Russia’s Security Council, including Dmitry Medvedev, a former president and prime minister.

The penalties cut off all of Putin’s close family members from the US financial system and freeze any assets they hold in the United States.

The western partners “will continue to impose severe and immediate economic costs on the Putin regime for its atrocities in Ukraine, including in Bucha,” the White House announcement states.

Meanwhile, the justice department has posted to its website details of the indictment of Konstantin Malofeyev, 47, announced at attorney general Merrick Garland’s earlier press conference.

The justice department alleges Malofeyev illegally attempted to transfer $10m in US investments to a business associate in Greece in violation of existing sanctions against him. The money has been seized, and while Malofeyev’s whereabouts are unknown, he is likely in Russia, the department says.

According to Michael Driscoll, assistant director of the FBI’s New York field office, Malofeyev: “played a leading role in supporting Russia’s 2014 invasion of eastern Ukraine, continues to run a pro-Putin propaganda network, and recently described Russia’s 2022 military invasion of Ukraine as a ‘holy war’.”

10:52

US indicts Russian oligarch; seizes megayacht and millions of dollars in Russian assets

The US has indicted a Russian oligarch it says is responsible for spreading the Kremlin’s misinformation around the world, as well as seizing a megayacht belonging to another of Vladimir Putin’s allies, and millions of dollars in assets they held, as the war in Ukraine rages on.

US attorney general Merrick Garland made the announcements today at a press conference at the justice department to announce actions “to prosecute criminal Russian activity.”

He also said that the US and its allies has broken up a massive attempted malware attack that Russia intended to unleash internationally, causing unprecedented disruption of the internet and causing tens of billions of dollars in damages globally.

“Our message to those who continue to enable the Russian regime through their criminal conduct is this: It does not matter how far you sail your yacht. It does not matter how well you conceal your assets. It does not matter how cleverly you write your malware or hide your online activity. The justice department will use every available tool to find you, disrupt your plots and hold you accountable,” Garland said.

The conspiracy charges have been filed against the Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeyev, who was previously the subject of US sanctions for spreading Russian misinformation.

Garland said he is “one of the main sources of financing for Russians promoting separatism in Crimea and for providing material support for the so called Donetsk People’s Republic.

“After being sanctioned by the US, Malofeyev attempted to evade the sanctions by using co-conspirators to surreptitiously acquire and run media outlets across Europe.”

Garland said the US had seized millions of dollars from an account at a US financial institution which the indictment alleges constitutes proceeds traceable to Malofeyev’s sanctions violations.

Meanwhile, the $90m megayacht Tango, belonging to the Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg, a close ally of Putin, was seized in Mallorca on Monday. Vekselberg was sanctioned in 2018 for money laundering, and again last month after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The malware attack was targeted largely at small businesses with an intention to spreading a massive, attempted denial of service attack intended to disrupt the internet internationally and cause at least $10bn in damages.

“The global botnet [was] controlled by the Russian military intelligence agency, commonly known as the GRU,” Garland said, noting the Russian government had recently used similar infrastructure to attack Ukrainian targets.

“Fortunately, we were able to disrupt this botnet before it could be used. Thanks to our close work with international partners, we were able to detect the infection of thousands of network hardware devices. We are then able to disable the GRU’s control over those devices before the botnet could be weaponized,” he said.

09:58

Ukraine war analysts were digesting on Wednesday grim predictions from the top US military commander Mark Milley that the conflict could last “at least years, for sure.”

The chair of the joint chiefs of staff gave his assessment to the House armed services committee on Tuesday after being pressed on a timeline by the Democratic Massachusetts congressman Bill Keating.

“It’s a bit early,” Milley replied. “Even though we’re a month-plus into the war, there is much of the ground war left in Ukraine. But I do think this is a very protracted conflict, and I think it’s at least measured in years. I don’t know about a decade, but at least years for sure.”

In February, before the Russian invasion, the Pentagon estimated Kyiv could fall within the first 72 hours.

Milley said he believed “the potential for significant international conflict between great powers is increasing, not decreasing,” according to the defense department’s own account of the briefing.

Russia’s action was: “the greatest threat to peace and security of Europe and perhaps the world in my 42 years of service in uniform,” Milley said.

The hearing also featured a heated exchange between the Florida Republican congressman Matt Gaetz, and defense secretary Lloyd Austin over “wokeism” in the US military, captured on CNN video here.

The Biden administration announced Tuesday it was sending $100m of javelin anti-armor missiles to Ukraine, bringing its investment in security there to more than $2.4bn, CBS reported.

09:38

In coronavirus news, the California Democratic congressman Adam Schiff has announced a positive test and his absence from Washington DC for the immediate future.

“This evening, I unfortunately tested positive for Covid-19,” he said in a tweet posted late Tuesday.

“I’m feeling fine, and grateful to be vaccinated and boosted. In the coming days, I will quarantine and follow CDC [centers for disease control and prevention] guidelines.”

The tweet ends with an appeal to get vaccinated.

Schiff, 61, was lead prosecutor in Donald Trump’s first impeachment trial in January 2020.

09:16

While we await the justice department/FBI presser about new steps to counter Russian criminality, here’s a look at the right wing figures in the US doing the Kremlin’s bidding in the war of disinformation.

False and conspiratorial narratives pushed by some American conservative politicians and media figures about Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine have bolstered and created synergies with the Kremlin’s legendary disinformation machine, experts on information manipulation say.

But even though Russia has embraced and promoted American disinformation, as well as the Kremlin’s own much larger stock of Ukraine war falsehoods, both brands have been widely debunked by experts and most media outlets, underscoring Moscow’s setbacks in the information war.

Led by Tucker Carlson at Fox News, a few Republican rightwingers in Congress, and some key conservative activists, a spate of comments that have disparaged Ukraine and its president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, and echoed other Russian war disinformation have been recycled by Moscow, say experts.

Read the full story here:

09:03

Good morning live blog readers. We’ve made it to the middle of an extremely busy week in US politics, with plenty more to come.

The US attorney general Merrick Garland will join the FBI director Christopher Wray and other justice department officials at a press conference later this morning to announce new enforcement actions “to disrupt and prosecute criminal Russian activity.” A statement advising of the briefing gave no further details.

Here’s what else we’re watching today:

  • The US and allies will announce new sanctions on Russian officials, banks and investments as more evidence of the country’s alleged war crimes in Ukraine comes to light. (A reminder you can follow developments in the Ukraine conflict in our 24-hour live blog here).
  • Contempt of Congress charges are expected from the House of Representatives against Donald Trump aides Dan Scavino and Peter Navarro for their failure to cooperate with its committee investigating the 6 January insurrection.
  • The confirmation of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the US supreme court will nudge ever closer as the US Senate begins to debate her nomination. A final vote is expected late tomorrow or Friday.
  • The Democratic California congressman Adam Schiff has tested positive for Covid-19.

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