Sanctioned abroad, Russian ex-banker lies low in South Florida


‘Lev Khasis is one of the leaders who built the Sber we know today, a modern company with a diversified business model,’ CEO Herman Gref mentioned in a observation.


AFP/Getty Images

Inside his $3.4 million condominium perched excessive above Miami’s “Little Moscow,” Russian ex-banker Lev Khasis is mendacity low.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Khasis has noticed devastating U.S. sanctions imposed in opposition to shut pals of Vladimir Putin, in opposition to Russia’s media tycoons and exporters, in opposition to politicians, or even a number of former co-workers on the state-owned banking massive the place Khasis spent years as a most sensible govt — together with his former rapid manager, the CEO.

But no longer him.

Khasis is neither stunned nor apprehensive, in line with his attorney. The former monetary heavyweight, who surrender his activity at Russia’s Sberbank two days earlier than Russian troops breached Ukraine’s border, believes he has accomplished not anything mistaken and undoubtedly not anything to benefit American sanctions.

But that didn’t forestall the governments of Canada and the United Kingdom from putting Khasis on their very own sanctions lists — that means he can not have interaction in any monetary transactions in the ones nations or with their electorate and fiscal establishments all over the world. The United States and its allies have normally coordinated their sanctions campaigns in opposition to Russian leaders and the oligarchs and fiscal establishments who support them.

If U.S. officers do impose sanctions, it will be a crushing blow for Khasis, a 55-year-old Russian who holds a U.S. inexperienced card. His Russian-born spouse and a number of other of his youngsters are American electorate. He and his circle of relatives moved to the United States in 2011, when he changed into an govt at Walmart after a a success occupation in Russia’s retail sector. The subsequent yr, he purchased 3 condos in Sunny Isles Beach — the rich waterfront town north of Miami Beach — for greater than $5 million. In 2013, he joined Sberbank and started splitting time between Sunny Isles and Moscow.

Sunny Isles Beach is ceaselessly referred to as Little Moscow for its moneyed caste of Russian expatriates, drawn by means of year-round solar and fiscal alternative. Many are wealthy, having benefited from Russia’s economic system, however no longer essentially oligarchs with mega-yachts and mansions. Khasis, specifically, is a prototypical entrepreneur and capitalist, the usage of his perch in South Florida to put money into distressed native actual property and co-found an aerospace corporate. But now he reveals himself stuck within the swirl of world politics, seeking to create distance between himself and a regime again house this is pursuing a brutal conflict on Ukraine, making itself a global outcast.

Khasis’ dilemma is an extraordinary case that illustrates probably the most demanding situations U.S. officers face as they search to punish the ones with regards to Putin by means of wielding the blunderbuss of monetary sanctions: What, if anything else, must occur to those who by means of distinctive feature in their necessary jobs helped prop up Putin’s govt — after which reputedly modified their minds?

In Russian media, fresh headlines blared that Khasis had “fled” Moscow for South Florida, conjuring up photographs of a Cold War defector.

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A headline from the Moscow Times

Khasis declined to remark for this tale. In a observation, his attorney mentioned that Canada had “erroneously” imposed sanctions on Khasis, believing he nonetheless labored at Sberbank, and that the United Kingdom had adopted go well with.

“We are pushing the Canadian government to correct its mistake and advise its international counterparts, such as the United Kingdom of the same, as this error is significantly and adversely affecting Mr. Khasis and his immediate family,” the attorney, Ashley Taborda, wrote in an e mail.

As for possible U.S. sanctions, Taborda mentioned: “There has been no indication from U.S. authorities that Mr. Khasis will be placed on any sanctions list and there is no basis to do so.”

Russia Ukraine War
Burned automobiles are noticed on the destroyed a part of the Illich Iron & Steel Works Metallurgical Plant, as smoke rises from the Metallurgical Combine Azovstal all over heavy preventing, in a space managed by means of Russian-backed separatist forces in Mariupol, Ukraine, Monday, April 18, 2022. Mariupol, a strategic port at the Sea of Azov, has been besieged by means of Russian troops and forces from self-proclaimed separatist spaces in japanese Ukraine for greater than six weeks. Alexei Alexandrov AP

The United States has levied sanctions in opposition to loads of Russian oligarchs, politicians and companies in retaliation for the Ukraine invasion, announcing it’s going to freeze and grab their property — from condos to personal jets to mega-yachts — despite the fact that to grab any property federal government should display the cash used to buy them used to be connected to against the law.

The Department of Treasury imposed restricted sanctions on Sberbank on Feb. 24, the similar day because the Russian invasion, earlier than putting complete blocking off sanctions at the financial institution greater than a month later — probably the most critical monetary punishment utilized by the United States.

The blocking off sanctions restrict U.S. individuals and fiscal establishments from attractive in any transactions with the financial institution and require them to freeze any of its property underneath their keep watch over. They are an immediate blow to the functioning of Russia’s monetary machine. Sberbank holds “the largest market share of savings deposits in the country [and] is the main creditor of the Russian economy,” Treasury mentioned.

The United States additionally added Herman Gref, Sberbank’s CEO and previously Khasis’ rapid boss, to its sanctions listing. The announcement described Gref as a “close Putin associate,” going again to their time in combination operating for the mayor of St. Petersburg within the Nineteen Nineties. Gref served as Russia’s business minister earlier than becoming a member of Sberbank.

While Khasis himself isn’t a member of Putin’s internal circle, “he is an extremely prominent figure in Russian state banking, the right hand of Gref,” mentioned Ilya Shumanov, director of Transparency International-Russia, an anti-corruption team.

Khasis’ position at Sberbank led him to high-profile settings. In 2013, he and different financial institution officers met with Donald Trump in Moscow all over Trump’s Miss Universe festival, which the Russian financial institution subsidized.

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After assembly Donald Trump on the Miss Universe festival, Lev Khasis mentioned the longer term president talked ‘very interestingly and wittily about real estate.’

In a Facebook submit written in Russian, Khasis mentioned that Trump talked “very interestingly and wittily about real estate, his political views, the Miss Universe contest, [and] his sympathies for Putin.”

‘Ministry of Cash’

In addition to his paintings in Russia, Khasis has robust monetary ties to the United States.

During the recession, Khasis evolved a trade, at the side of different Russian emigres, of shopping for up reasonable condos in South Florida, typically out of foreclosures, and renting them out to locals — a mirrored image of the unseen world forces that form Miami’s actual property marketplace.

He additionally co-founded a California-based house era company referred to as Momentus. Last yr, Khasis and his trade spouse offered their stakes in Momentus after the corporate disclosed that the U.S. Department of Defense referred to as its Russian possession “a risk to national security.” Among Momentus’ purchasers: NASA and Lockheed Martin, the enormous U.S. protection contractor.

Khasis has mentioned he used to be making plans his go out from Sberbank lengthy earlier than he left. But indicators that Russia would quickly invade Ukraine looked as if it would boost up his plans.

In a Feb. 15 information unencumber, Khasis mentioned he would step down from his submit as first deputy chairman in June as a result of his “personal and professional priorities” and that he had made the verdict a number of months in the past. The unencumber said that Khasis would proceed to paintings with Sberbank as a expert and run its fledgling e-commerce trade.

“Lev Khasis is one of the leaders who built the Sber we know today, a modern company with a diversified business model,” CEO Gref mentioned in a observation. “Lev pioneered the transformation of Sberbank into a technology company and did a lot to improve the efficiency of our organization, create new services and products, increase our customer centricity, and develop Sber’s corporate culture.”

Sberbank CEO Herman Gref, left, and Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin attend a gathering on financial problems held by means of Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin in Moscow. Dmitry Astakhov Sputnik by the use of AP

Things unexpectedly modified when it changed into inescapably transparent that Russia would invade Ukraine.

On Feb. 22, a 2d Sberbank information unencumber said that Khasis would depart the financial institution instantly, giving up the consultancy and e-commerce startup. Russian troops stormed around the border two days later. There isn’t any public file of Khasis condemning the invasion, one thing that will most probably put his family and friends in Russia in danger.

Khasis’ attorney showed that her consumer’s “plans to resign from Sberbank and permanently move to the United States had long been in effect, as his family has been living in the United States since 2011, but were expedited due to worsening geopolitical conditions.”

“Based on what we’ve seen in the media,” she added, “Mr. Khasis’ departure has undoubtedly sent a clear, loud and resounding message regarding his opinion and his feelings about the course of action which Russia has chosen.”

The Treasury Department declined to remark for this tale. So did officers at Homeland Security Investigations, which is investigating any South Florida property of sanctioned Russians. Sberbank’s press place of job didn’t reply to an e mail.

State-owned Sberbank sits on the basis of the way Russia’s govt controls its economic system, mentioned Juliet Johnson, a professor of political science at Montreal’s McGill University who has written concerning the country’s banking machine.

“Its nickname is the Ministry of Cash,” Johnson mentioned. “It is the place where most Russians still have their accounts. There’s a reason it gets sanctioned: Its policies and activities are very much directed by the government. It is essentially an agent of the Russian government.”

As first deputy chairman, Khasis served as “the equivalent of a high-ranking government official,” she mentioned — one of the most most sensible 3 leaders on the financial institution, along the CEO and every other first deputy chairman.

When the United States positioned sanctions on Sberbank’s different first deputy chairman, Alexander Vedhaykin, who in contrast to Khasis stayed in his submit, it described him as “a leader, official, senior executive officer, or member of the board of directors” of the Russian govt. On May 8, Treasury added 8 different senior Sberbank executives to its sanctions listing.

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks all over his deal with to the country on the Kremlin in Moscow on Feb. 21, 2022. Alexey Nikolsky Sputnik/AFP/Getty Images/TNS

The shut ties between Putin and Sberbank didn’t forestall primary American monetary companies from purchasing the financial institution’s inventory in earlier years. Its most sensible world traders come with BlackRock, JPMorgan Chase, Vanguard and TIAA.

Abbas Gallyamov, a Russian political commentator, mentioned he used to be stunned that Russia allowed Khasis to stroll clear of Sberbank — and puzzled if there used to be extra to the tale. For example, the manager of Russia’s central financial institution, Elvira Nabiullina, reportedly attempted to renounce after the invasion just for Putin to inform her she needed to keep.

“The entire Russian political system is built on absolutely non-institutional, shady personal relationships,” mentioned Gallyamov, a former speechwriter for Putin who now criticizes the regime.

But at the face of items, he mentioned, Khasis’ departure would certainly be noticed by means of Russian leaders as “an act of betrayal.”

‘Deliberately Devastating’

The United States has the facility to impose sanctions on folks with U.S. citizenship and inexperienced playing cards. But it hardly ever does so.

Of the hundreds of people at the sanctions listing, more or less a dozen have U.S. addresses. Only one is indexed as an American citizen.

For any person dwelling within the United States, being added to the listing could be “deliberately devastating from a commercial perspective, and personally highly disruptive,” mentioned Chip Poncy, world head of economic integrity at K2 Integrity, a possibility, compliance, investigations and tracking company and a former Treasury reputable. “All assets of that individual in the U.S. would be required to be frozen unless permitted under a program exemption.”

That method Khasis wouldn’t have the ability to get entry to his U.S. financial institution accounts. Things like paying a loan and purchasing groceries may develop into tricky, if no longer unattainable.

Canada sanctioned Khasis on Feb. 24. The United Kingdom adopted go well with a month later. The public rationale for the verdict used to be sparse.

The Canadian govt incorporated Khasis on a listing of “key members of President Putin’s inner circle, close contacts and family members of some individuals already sanctioned by Canada.” The United Kingdom, in flip, cited Canada’s choice in including Khasis to its personal listing, announcing it will freeze his property and ban him from trip.

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Lev Khasis

Khasis’ attorney mentioned she had submitted a “de-listing application to the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Canada requesting for Mr. Khasis’ name to be removed on an urgent basis, setting out the myriad reasons for which Mr. Khasis does not meet the requisite statutory criteria for designation,” and used to be operating on a an identical request to the United Kingdom.

Canada’s international ministry mentioned privateness rules averted it from announcing extra about Khasis. The United Kingdom didn’t reply to a request for remark.

“People who make a lot of money supporting corrupt state actors in Russia should not be allowed to simply walk away,” mentioned Adam Kaufmann, a legal protection attorney who focuses on international corruption instances and a former New York City prosecutor. “There should be consequences. That is probably the message [Canada and the United Kingdom] seek to deliver.”

Another senior Russian financial institution reputable, Igor Volobuev, publicly surrender his activity as vice chairman at Gazprombank and tried to sign up for the protection forces of Ukraine, the place he used to be born, in line with Reuters.

Whether the United States will in truth sanction Khasis relies on what federal officers hope to perform, mentioned Johnson, the McGill professor.

Having resigned, Khasis has little talent to power Russia’s govt to switch its insurance policies — one of the most number one causes for the U.S. sanctioning state officers and influential oligarchs.

People line as much as obtain a scorching meal in an improvised bomb safe haven in Mariupol, Ukraine, in March. Evgeniy Maloletka AP

But sanctions can accomplish different objectives too, particularly as a caution to trade executives with ties to each Russia and the West.

“This could send a broader message to international citizens that cooperating with the Russian government will be punished, that you should really think twice about that,” Johnson mentioned. “If the goal is to turn the Russian government into an international economic pariah, then it will be more effective in that regard.”

Still, sanctioning Khasis might be “counterproductive” for the reason that the banker walked clear of his existence and place in Russia, Johnson mentioned — one thing the United States probably hopes different high-profile executives will emulate.

“You do want to encourage people to quit their jobs and leave,” Johnson mentioned. “But you might also want to have them publicly say, ‘Hey, we’re leaving not just to save ourselves financially, but also because we oppose the war.’ ”

Miami Herald workforce writers Sarah Blaskey and Jay Weaver and McClatchy DC White House Correspondent Michael Wilner contributed to this document.

Nicholas Nehamas is an investigative reporter on the Miami Herald, the place he used to be a part of the Pulitzer Prize-winning group that broke the Panama Papers in 2016. He and his Herald colleagues had been additionally named Pulitzer finalists in 2019 for the sequence “Dirty Gold, Clean Cash.” He is the co-author of 2 books: “The Grifter’s Club: Trump, Mar-a-Lago, and the Selling of the Presidency” and “Dirty Gold: The Rise and Fall of an International Smuggling Ring.” He joined the Herald in 2014.
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