2 charged in $150M scheme with sanctioned Ukrainian oligarch

Apr 19, 2023, 5:45 PM

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — A U.S. businessman and a Belarus national have been arrested in Florida and charged with violating U.S. sanctions in a scheme that involved purchasing over $150 million in steelmaking materials from an exiled Ukrainian oligarch accused of funding Russian-backed separatist groups in eastern Ukraine.

John Unsalan, 41, of Orlando, was arrested last Friday, and Belarus national Sergey Karpushkin, 46, on Tuesday, according to court records.

“The arrest of John Can Unsalan should serve as a warning to those who seek to do business with sanctioned individuals or entities that endanger the security of the United States and our allies,” U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement.

“The Justice Department is relentlessly pursuing those who seek to evade sanctions imposed against the Russian regime and whose crimes enable the regime to continue its unjust, illegal war in Ukraine,” Garland said.

Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, eight years after annexing Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014. The two nations have been at war for more than a year, with Ukraine receiving aid from the U.S. and other NATO countries.

According to an indictment, Unsalan, acting through his company, Metalhouse LLC, transferred over $150 million to Sergey Kurchenko and his companies between July 2018 and October 2021. In return, Unsalan received metal products used in steelmaking and attempted to collect from Kurchenko millions of dollars of funds for undelivered products. Prosecutors say Karpushkin helped facilitate those transactions.

According to court documents, Kurchenko was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control in 2015 for his role in misappropriating Ukrainian state assets or economically significant entities.

The two sanctioned companies – Kompaniya Gaz-Alyans, OOO, based in the Russian Federation, and ZAO Vneshtorgservis, based in the unrecognized territory of South Ossetia – were designated by the Treasury Department in 2018 as acting on behalf of and providing material support to the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic in the separatist-controlled regions of eastern Ukraine.

Kurchenko left Ukraine in 2014, around the time former President Viktor Yanukovych was impeached and removed from office. Prosecutors in Ukraine issued a warrant for Kurchenko’s arrest shortly after he left the country and accused him of failing to pay $130 million in taxes and stealing $180 million from bank investors.

Unsalan is charged with one count of conspiring to violate and evade U.S. sanctions, in violation of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act; 10 counts of violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act; one count of conspiring to commit international money laundering and 10 counts of international money laundering. The indictment charges Karpushkin with one count of conspiring to violate and evade U.S. sanctions. Each count comes with a possible 20-year prison sentence.

An email seeking comment was sent to attorneys for Unsalan. Online court records didn’t list an attorney for Karpushkin.

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2 charged in $150M scheme with sanctioned Ukrainian oligarch