Oligarch’s U.S.-Built Jets Ordered Seized By Federal Judge


Top-tier Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich will likely have to find another way to get around the planet after a U.S. federal judge signed a warrant clearing the way for the Department of Justice to seize his pair of U.S.-built jets—a Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner and a Gulfstream G650ER. The action stems from sanctions imposed after the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February that have expanded to include “export, reexport, or in-country transfer of, among other things, aircraft and aircraft parts … to or within Russia without a license,” according to an affidavit by FBI agent Alan Fowler filed in the U.S. District Court in Manhattan.

According to current sanctions, since both aircraft were manufactured in the U.S., they need a special license in order to travel from a foreign country into Russia. Fowler’s affidavit alleges, “But no licenses were applied for or issued. Nor was any license exception available, including because the Boeing and the Gulfstream were each owned and/or controlled by a Russian national: Roman Abramovich.”

U.S. officials believe the Boeing was illegally flown to Russia in March, against regulations, and is currently in Dubai. The Gulfstream is reportedly currently in Russia.

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Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

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  1. Sorry, but this seizure of Abramovich’s aircraft by order of a federal judge is complete crap. Months after announcements by Biden that these types of actions had already been taken we find they are have not. Instead of being seized by federal agents, a judge is simply ordering it through a warrant, giving the target of the order plenty of time to protect the assets. When the sanctions were announced, government officials said that sanctions would take time to have an effect on Russia. They didn’t say the sanctions themselves would take a long time to actually happen. They didn’t say the sanctions would creep through our federal system like a snail. We had images of federal agents swooping in grabbing enough stuff to get the oligarchs to lean on Putin. There apparently is little swooping in on anything. When a drug raid happens, the druglord’s Mercedes is on the auction block almost that day. Not Putin’s apparently. We are giving the aggressor a lot of time to adjust to our actions, thus blunting the effect. Meanwhile, we take weeks on end to decide whether to send medium range artillary to Ukraine, while countrys like the UK and Poland do it decisively and quickly leaving the US looking like worried followers.

    • Slow to seize in some cases, though courts are involved.

      US marshalls just got court agreement to seize a Russian oligarch’s yacht in Fiji – then they quickly sailed it away.

      Yes, buildup of sanctions and weapons shipment has been ridiculously slow.

      Compromiser Angela Merkel has finally spoke out against the Russia she bought fuels from, recall she pandered to the German Green Party to stay in power.

  2. There are those in power that are wistful and teary-eyed about the resumption of the Cold War with the former Soviet Union.

    Putin is not a “madman.” I believe Putin’s reasoning is consistent with the historical Russian mindset — which is to be ever watchful for another eastern march by those (Nazis?) desiring Russia’s land and mineral resources — i.e., “Lebensraum” — for those of you that still study history.

    This entire debacle could have been averted had Zelensky early, openly and forcefully declared that NATO would not ever be on Ukrainian soil.

    The Ukrainian crisis has nothing to do with Ukraine. It’s about a pipeline that connects Germany to Russia called Nord Stream 2. Washington sees the pipeline as a threat to its primacy in Europe and has tried to sabotage the project at every turn.

    For the United States and its NATO allies, a policy of containing Russia via a eastward march, with obvious geopolitical dividends, has been in effect. For Russia, this march has been an existential threat. Russia is no more likely to accept NATO and its missiles sited in Ukraine now, than the US would accept missiles in Cuba in 1962.

    Someone in the US State Department needs to explain why the Russian body politic should not be apprehensive about NATO forces mustered in Ukraine — which is for all intents and purposes, a US client state.

    There is more. Much more to all this. Let us all be sophisticated and inquisitive enough to at least give all this proper and due consideration.

    “Good fences make good neighbors.” The Donbas is that “fence.” You want a World War? Then become an ostrich, put your head in the sand, and believe none of this.

    • There’s a gaping flaw in the Russian argument. It is their rhetoric and behaviour that drives their neighbours to join a defensive alliance. Their invasion of Ukraine has now proven this to have been necessary.

      If the countries in Europe perceived the USA to be a threat, they could have joined the Warsaw Pact.

    • Certainly Merkel evaded the nature of Putin which she identified years ago, but kept dealing with him in order to appease Green goons in Germany so she could stay in power.

      Putin is stupid – he managed to turn ‘western’ nations including NATO members strongly against him, he failed early in the war so has abandoned attacking Ukraine’s capital area for now, his army is poorly equipped, badly led, disorganized, not motivated, …… He FAILED.

    • Putin is ‘smart’ in strategy – he tried get a country rich in agriculture and industry for little expenditure.

      But stupid in not doing his homework, not listening to people.

      Self-deluding of course, reminds me of someone whose own sister said he believes his own lies.

  3. So much for due process… To make matters worse, the FBI is involved and their track record of law enforcement/investigation capability has been suspect as of late (the targeting of parents speaking their mind at school board meetings, investigating shop door pull ropes, and being involved a various nefarious schemes to target political opposition comes to mind)

    • I’m not a fan of the FBI at all, especially since they decided Hillary Clinton committed no crime with her private hidey-hole email server that just had yoga class schedules on it. Yeah, right. BUT, Jeff, “so much for due process” is exactly the wrong sarcastic comment as it applies to the Abramovich seizures because excessive due process is the problem. There was an executive order in force and no judge’s signature was required.

      • Brandon and his corrupt administration have been issuing illegal, Unconstitutional, unethical, and immoral EOs from the first day he went into the WH. You apologies for him are unappreciated.

  4. The one thing that gave the United States standing in the world has been the Rule of Law. No man deprived of life, liberty, or property (That would include jet airplanes.) without due process.

    Now we are becoming like all the socialist/dictator/junta-run nations. Those in power just do whatever they want, depending upon the fad or passion of the moment, and they don’t care what the law says, the Constitution says, or what their supposed bosses (the voters) desire. This is why we are going to lose our status as world reserve currency – a true disaster in the making – and why we should. We – actually not “we” – our so-called “leaders” – particularly Titular President Asterisk, have proven corrupt and our system inadequate to rein them in.

    We have a near-complete breakdown of principle in this country. I hope the coming electoral bloodbath in November at least does SOMETHING toward putting us back on the rails.

    • Yeah, I agree actually, this sets a terrible precedent. This is the principle to live by except the constitution only applies to citizens not foreign nationals. That being said, it was mentioned earlier, this is only a judgement on paper. You’re not going to actually seize any property when it sits in Dubai, and an airworthiness certificate does what exactly ? It only make you legal, it doesn’t prevent a plane from taking off and flying away. This looks more like mental masturbation more than something with teeth, and just further underscores the ineptitude of this administration.

  5. The 787 is registered P4- , on the registry of Aruba. The authorities there have revoked the Certificate of Airworthiness so the aircraft was effectively grounded. A Federal warrant is thus a symbolic action on paper.

    • Flying it away would not be the first time, I recall it has been done in Africa.

      Where to fly it to would be a problem, with airspace of many countries closed to Russian operators. Would take effort and subterfuge.

      (Aruba is in the southern end of the Caribbean, close to Venezuela which might be a destination given Russian involvement in it, though Venezuela may not want to upset the US today as it is not blocking some shipments of oil to ease the shortage in northwestern Europe.

      Aruba is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands along with a few other small islands and The Netherlands.)

  6. PD’s analysis is seriously off the mark. Putin is an imperialist with an inferiority complex. He is an aggrieved little man who pines for the good old days when the USSR controlled a vastly larger empire – “Mother Russia” indeed. He is surrounded by the defensive alliance NATO because of his own brutal aggressiveness. NATO’s members, soon to include previously neutral Sweden and Finland, fear and loath Russia for good reason and the untrustworthy (and profoundly corrupt) liar Putin in particular.

    Some of the other less than astute comments here seem to be an excuse to grind a political ax or two. Here’s my contribution: can you imagine you-know-who being in charge right now? Would you feel better? Safer?

  7. As usual, an AvWeb article has ginned-up a spittle flurry of political commentary.

    This seems to me to be a fairly straight-forward issue:
    1. Were these two aircraft bought legally and the manufacturers/brokers paid in full?
    2. Are these two aircraft currently on US soil or otherwise under US legal jurisdiction?
    3. Do these two aircraft present a threat to US persons or property?

    If the answers are ‘yes’, ‘no’, and ‘no’, I fail to see how we have any legitimate authority over where they go. Yes, we can exert pressure on other countries to make such travel difficult, but that is a matter for the State Department, not the FBI or a US Federal judge.

    What salient facts am I missing?

    N.B. to (ir)Rational K.: You do your arguments no favor by conflating a political opinion with qualification for a pilot’s license.

    • Chip, you are correct that this has certainly brought out some pretty strong opinions on both sides. The issue of the sanctions against Russia and Russian oligarchs is a complex study in international politics. President Biden’s executive order does give the FBI and other government agencies the legal right to seize the property of Russian citizens that are located within the confines of the United States and its territories. However, those assets found to be located in foreign countries would require the agreement of those governments to seize the assets, in this case the 787 aircraft. The intent is not to return the plane to the U.S., but to hold it and prevent it from returning to Russia. Another complication is that most of the oligarchs do not register their yachts and planes in their names. Instead, they list them through shell organizations in foreign countries with lax ownership laws to hide the true ownership. As a result, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies must go through a legal search of records to prove the true ownership and submit that information to the Justice Department who then issues the proper legal warrant for seizure. This is no different that if the FBI was attempting to seize property of an American citizen for whatever reason. The article did not go into all the background details, but gets the idea across.

    • Error!

      A poster accused me of something s/he had no reason to suspect, IMJ such a person is not qualified to do aviation work because it requires facts and logic.

      As for your post otherwise, you can look the cases up on the Internet, noting that a large proportion of airliners flying in Russia are owned by leasing companies, some of which may be headquartered in the US, others in Allied nations like Ireland.

    • I agree 100% Chip. Another overreach by the US government. If the Russian owns them outright, I do not think we have a right to seize them. We can however through sanctions deny them parts and tech support from Boeing, Gulfstream, and other US suppliers. I completely hate what Putin’s Russia is doing in Ukraine but we need to still respect the rule of law.

  8. Wow! First, AVweb should have know better than to post this article having seen some of the politics recently addressing many articles. Be careful. Some number of years ago, AVweb shut off all comments to their publication because they had become a bit beyond just addressing matters of aviation interest. Could happen.

      • Political-ignorance – Yes. Hate? No, that’s what those say when someone disagrees with them and they can’t rationally defend their position. And so they resort to ad hominem. And they demand that a forum Cancel their opponents’ voices.

        I come to AvWeb for the comments. I have learned more from those here with certain experiences/expertise, who articulate their thinking, or fill in the blanks, than the initial reports by staff.

        And, as someone who’s Comments have been published in the Reader’s Feedback section (or is it called “Editors’ Picks”? I can’t remember) a few times now, I hope that I have likewise helped others by sharing my thinking. But I could not help others if my voice were silenced.

        No one is MAKING you read Comments that you don’t like. But to insist that AvWeb makes it so that no one else can read Comments that you don’t like is what Leaders of Repressive Regimes do.

    • You are exactly right.

      To those who deign to dismiss my synopsis, even the last few days of activity, press releases, youtube commentary, and other sources, tend to support the thesis I have proffered that Ukraine will lose. Here is one such example where the veracity of actors such as Lt. Gen.Twitty former Deputy Commander of US European Command, cannot be disputed. Just replace the “dot” with a “.” and complete the URL header “https”.


      How much Ukraine loses depends on the willingness of all parties to engage in diplomacy with all due dispatch.

      And yes, this website should focus exclusively on matters pertaining to promulgating aviation. The seizing of property doesn’t seem to apply to 14 CFR. To those that are off-put by my entry, my sincere apologies.