WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Treasury Department has hit a group of 10 Russians and others connected to a major organized-crime syndicate with new financial sanctions, the third wave of sanctions to be announced in as many days by the United States.
The list published on December 22 by the department's Office of Financial Assets Control is unlikely to seriously affect the businesses or transactions of the people involved. But the move highlights the importance U.S. policymakers put on financial sanctions as a tool of U.S. foreign policy.
The syndicate targeted is known as "Thieves-in-Law", which is also a widely used Russian term to describe powerful organized-crime figures who first emerged from the gulag system of Soviet prison camps.
The Thieves-in-Law group, according to the Treasury Department, allegedly engaged in money laundering, extortion, bribery, and robbery in Russia, Europe, and the United States for years, the department said in a statement.
"Treasury is designating the Thieves-in-Law as part of a broader strategy to disrupt the financial infrastructure of transnational criminal organizations that pose a threat to the United States and our allies," office director John Smith said.
Among those targeted was Alimzhan Tokhtakhunov, who Treasury said had been indicted twice in the United States, once in 2013 in a bribery case related to the scandal-plagued 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
Known by the nickname Taiwanchik, Tokhtakhunov has scoffed at U.S. law enforcement measures in the past. "If I was going to launder money, I'd have done it in my own country, right? The complaints would be coming from my country. How can the Americans complain that I, without even living there, laundered their money over there?" he told RFE/RL in a 2013 interview.
Also included was Gafur Rakhimov, an Uzbek native renowned throughout former Soviet Central Asia and accused of money laundering, drug trafficking, and other crimes.
Other listed were Vladimir Tyurin, Ruben Tatulian, and Yury Pichugin, who has been arrested in the past by Russian law enforcement. His current status wasn't immediately clear.
U.S. and European intelligence agencies have long warned about the formidable networks of organized-crime groups that emerged out of the former Soviet Union and spread into Europe, North America, and East Asia after the Soviet collapse.
Intelligence officials have also warned the groups are frequently tapped by government agencies in Russia and elsewhere to conduct officially sanctioned operations.
"Russian-based organized-crime groups in Europe have been used for a variety of purposes, including as sources of ‘black cash,' to launch cyberattacks, to wield political influence, to traffic people and goods, and even to carry out targeted assassinations on behalf of the Kremlin," Mark Galeotti, a New York-based expert on Russian law enforcement and crime, said in a widely read paper published in April.
The sanctions were the third such measure to be taken in as many days by the Treasury Department.
On December 21, 52 people were blacklisted under the Global Magnitsky Act, a 2016 U.S. law that imposes financial and travel restrictions against people deemed to have committed human rights abuses or corrupt activity.
That list included the eldest daughter of late Uzbek President Islam Karimov, the son of Russian Prosecutor-General Yury Chaika, a Ukrainian riot-police commander, and others.
And a day prior, Treasury hit the leader of Russia's Chechnya region and four others under an earlier iteration of the law known simply as the Magnitsky Act, named for Russian whistle-blower Sergei Magnitsky who was imprisoned after uncovering a scheme that stole $230 million from the Russian treasury. Magnitsky died in prison in 2009.
That law infuriated the Kremlin, and Moscow has complained repeatedly about it.