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Russian Oligarchs’ Far-Flung U.S. Real Estate Holdings Reach Deep South Student Housing

Viktor Vekselberg

An off-campus multifamily complex in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, that serves Louisiana State University students has been revealed to be a small part of Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg’s $16.6B fortune, Bloomberg reports.

The property in Baton Rouge is the 732-bed Arlington Cottages and Townhomes. Vekselberg is “indirectly a minority investor in this property,” Hilary Marshall, a spokesperson for Coastal Ridge Real Estate, told Bloomberg.

“The investment occurred in 2016, well before sanctions were levied,” Marshall said.

Vekselberg, owner and president of Renova Group, a Russian energy sector conglomerate, has been sanctioned more than once for his close ties to the Kremlin. 

In 2018, the United States imposed sanctions on him in the wake of Russia's annexation of Crimea. More recently, after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the U.S. strengthened its sanctions on Vekselberg, and the UK, European Union and Australia also sanctioned him. On Monday, U.S. authorities seized a 255-foot, $90M yacht in Spain that is reportedly owned by Vekselberg.

The extent of Russian oligarchs' U.S. real estate holdings, which can be shrouded by means of shell companies and other legal devices, is emerging bit by bit. With access to billions in investment capital, the ultra-wealthy of Russia have been salting away money in a wide variety of American real estate assets.

Russian billionaires are hardly alone in parking lucre in the United States. Foreign nationals looking to hide their assets have laundered at least $2.3B through U.S. real estate in the past five years, plus millions more in assets like art, jewelry and yachts, according to a 2021 report by Global Financial Integrity, a nonprofit group that researches illicit money flows.

The report, Acres of Money Laundering: Why U.S. Real Estate is a Kleptocrat’s Dream, details why kleptocrats, sanctions evaders and other criminals consider U.S. real estate a destination of choice, including assets outside of gateway cities. 

One reason is that, as of last year, the U.S. remained the only G-7 country that didn't require real estate professionals to comply with anti-money laundering laws. Proposed new regulations by the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network of the U.S. Treasury Department would require them to do so.

In December, the Biden administration released the United States Strategy on Countering Corruption, a 38-page document, one of the five goals of which is to curb illicit finance. Toward that end, the Treasury Department began the rulemaking process that would implement a measure passed in late 2020 forcing limited liability companies making real estate purchases to disclose their ownership structures.

“In the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the need for high quality ownership information is greater than it has ever been before,” the Brookings Institute said in an early March report.