A Russian Oligarch’s Mysterious Death and the US Drive To Seize His Jetliner

Russian oligarch

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, left, and chairman of the board of directors of petroleum giant Lukoil, Ravil Maganov, pose for a photo during a Kremlin award ceremony on Nov. 21, 2019, less than three years before the CEO publicly criticized Putin’s war in Ukraine. Photo by Mikhail Klimentyev/Sputnik/AFP/Getty Images.

Two days before Russian oligarch Ravil Maganov mysteriously fell to his death from a Moscow window, US prosecutors moved to seize one of his jetliners.

The chairman of the board of Russia’s second-largest petroleum producer, Lukoil, Maganov plummeted six stories from a window at Central Clinical Hospital on Thursday, Sept. 1. He was being treated there for a heart condition and depression, according to the Mash, a channel on the Telegram messaging platform that’s closely linked to the Kremlin’s police services.

Maganov was 67, and Russian officials have suggested to Mash that his death was a suicide. But his demise also came only six months after he publicly criticized Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

His death also followed a string of other oligarchs dying under unusual circumstances this year, most of them tied to a Russian energy sector hit hard by global economic sanctions.

Russian oligarch

People hold signs near Lukoil’s Belgian office while calling for a boycott of the Russian oil company in Brussels on May 13, 2022. The protests came despite a call from Lukoil — Russia’s second-largest oil company, which produces 2% of the world’s crude oil — for an end to the war in Ukraine. Photo by Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP/Getty Images.

Ex-Lukoil executive and board member Alexander Subbotin‘s death might’ve been the weirdest. He succumbed to what police investigators said was toad venom tied to basement voodoo rituals, according to Mash.

Russian officials said Gazprom Invest’s Leonid Shulman stabbed himself to death. Gazprom shipping contractor Yuri Voronov’s bullet-ridden corpse was fished out of his St. Petersburg swimming pool. Gazprom treasurer Alexander Tyulyakov allegedly died from a suicide shortly after he was savagely beaten by unknown hands.

Spanish investigators found Novatek’s Sergey Protosenya hanged in his opulent Lloret de Mar villa next to the stabbed bodies of his wife and daughter, a tragedy that seemed eerily similar to the shootings of Gazprombank’s Vladislav Avayev, his wife, and their daughter in their Moscow luxury flat.

But don’t forget about Vasily Melnikov, the Medstom medical equipment importer. He also was found dead next to his wife and two sons in their Nizhny Novgorod residence.

Russian oligarch

A Lukoil station attendant pumps gas into a customer’s car on March 4, 2022, in the Canarsie neighborhood of Brooklyn. Lukoil, Russia’s second largest oil company, which produces 2% of the world’s crude oil, has called for an end to the war in Ukraine. Despite the that, the oil company, which has 230 locations owned by American franchises in the US, faced increasing calls for boycotts. Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images.

Russian news agencies have characterized all these mass killings as murder-suicide slayings. The common thread that runs through all the supposed suicides and alleged family executions is that all worked for companies that had fraying ties to the Kremlin while reeling from US-led international sanctions tied to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

On Tuesday, two days before Maganov’s death, US Magistrate Judge Sam S. Sheldon in Houston signed a warrant to seize a Boeing 737-7EM jetliner that belonged to the oil giant, a sign of the ongoing US-led sanctions designed to strangle the Russian economy in the wake of the Ukraine offensive.

“Today’s actions to enforce the powerful export restrictions placed on Russia are our latest coordinated measures that let Vladimir Putin and his allies know they are isolated and we are watching,” said Matthew S. Axelrod, assistant secretary of commerce for export enforcement, in a prepared statement released after the warrant was signed. “The Commerce Department’s Office of Export Enforcement continues to vigorously enforce the export laws of the United States and stand with the people of Ukraine against Putin’s war of aggression.”

Lukoil spokespeople did not respond to Coffee or Die Magazine’s messages seeking comment.

Russian oligarch

A Boeing 737-7EM aircraft with tail number VP-CLR and a manufacturer’s serial number of 34865 is subject to confiscation, according to a federal warrant signed on Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2022. US Department of Justice photo.

It’s unlikely that federal agents will board and seize the 16-year-old airliner in the near future.

On March 8, as new international sanctions began to gnaw at the Russian economy, their jet flew from Dubai to Moscow, where it has remained ever since.

But if it lands in a country that will enforce the US confiscation warrant, it will be flown to Houston.

US sanctions have targeted Lukoil since Russia’s 2014 occupation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, but federal regulators gave them more teeth in the wake of the Kremlin’s attempt to conquer Kyiv eight years later.

Russian oligarch

Protesters in the United Kingdom hold signs on the roundabout at Ferrybridge services after the police closed the exit junction on July 4, 2022, in Leeds, England. Prices for gasoline and diesel have risen steadily in 2022 as the price of oil has climbed because of post-pandemic demand and sanctions against Russia, one of the world’s largest oil exporters. Photo by Cameron Smith/Getty Images.

In an 11-page affidavit buttressing the seizure warrant, US Department of Commerce Special Agent Gina Makowski detailed a series of five firms that had, on paper, possessed the $45 million aircraft since Lukoil bought it in 2007.

The five firms include shell companies registered in the Cayman Islands, Cyprus, the Netherlands, and Austria that all fell under the control of Lukoil, according to Andrew C. Adams, the director of the US Justice Department’s Task Force KleptoCapture aimed at Russian firms and their executives.

In a prepared statement, Adams warned the Kremlin that “aviation, insurance, and financial services companies are made aware of that nesting doll-structure, and can proactively avoid the provision of services that might aid the movement of this tainted aircraft as the United States pursues its seizure.”

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Carl came to Coffee or Die Magazine after stints at Navy Times, The San Diego Union-Tribune, and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He served in the Marine Corps and the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. His awards include the Joseph Galloway Award for Distinguished Reporting on the military, a first prize from Investigative Reporters & Editors, and the Combat Infantryman Badge.
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