A former Fox News producer was charged on Thursday with violating US sanctions by working for a Russian oligarch accused of being a top financial backer for separatists in Crimea and eastern Ukraine and have close ties to President Vladimir V. Putin.
Producer John Hanick was arrested in London last month and charged in US District Court in Manhattan in what federal prosecutors say is the first such indictment resulting from penalties imposed following the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014.
Konstantin Malofeev – the oligarch who employed Mr Hanick, according to the indictment – was called ‘one of the main sources of funding for Russians promoting separatism in Crimea’ by the Treasury Department when the sanctions were imposed. were set up in December 2014. Mr. Hanick worked for Mr. Malofeev from 2013 to 2017, according to the indictment.
The case against Mr. Hanick, a 71-year-old US citizen, came as the United States and much of the rest of the world continue to financially punish Russia as part of broader efforts to end his war against Ukraine. On Wednesday, the Justice Department announced the creation of a new task force to “hold accountable the corrupt Russian oligarchs” who had supported the invasion.
Although the charges against Mr. Hanick stem from eight-year-old sanctions, they are part of other measures that the United States and its allies have taken more recently and indicate that the federal authorities will use all the levers available to put pressure on Mr. Putin and his entourage.
Damian Williams, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, made that point in a statement.
The charges, he said, showed a “commitment to enforcing laws designed to cripple those who would use their wealth to undermine fundamental democratic processes.”
Mr Hanick, who was with Fox News at its inception and spent 15 years on the network before leaving in 2011, is charged in the indictment with one count of sanctions violation and a another of lying to the FBI agents who interviewed him last year.
Lawyers for Mr. Hanick could not be reached for comment. A Fox News spokeswoman declined to comment on the charges, but said the indictment misrepresented Mr. Hanick’s role on the network as a director, not a producer.
Mr. Malofeev, a banker and staunch follower of the Russian Orthodox faith, is one of Russia’s most influential tycoons and one of the most prominent conservatives among the Kremlin-allied elite. (The indictment returns his surname Malofeyev.)
He is a bulwark of Mr Putin’s support for the Russian right, has links to far-right politicians in the US and Europe and has been accused of funding separatists in eastern Ukraine in addition of its activities in Crimea. He denied the charges.
He was also one of the main players in a campaign to increase Russia’s influence in Africa while decreasing that of Western countries.
Mr. Hanick’s work for Mr. Malofeev involved developing media outlets in Russia, Greece, Bulgaria and elsewhere, according to the indictment. He moved to Russia in July 2013 after negotiating an employment contract “directly with Malofeev” which included a salary, a monthly housing allowance of $5,000 and health insurance, the indictment says.
At first, Hanick mainly worked on a project to build a Russian cable TV news network, which aired in April 2015, the government said. Mr. Malofeev was then subject to US sanctions as well as similar European measures.
Mr. Hanick played a prominent role in the network, variously described in emails as chairman of the board, general producer and general counsel, according to the indictment.
The indictment cites a January 2015 email from Mr. Hanick to Mr. Malofeev in which Mr. Hanick wrote that a draft policy statement for the network was intended to “implement your vision.”
“You are the founder and chief architect of the project,” Mr. Hanick’s email said, according to the indictment. “We as board members have a responsibility to instruct staff to implement your instructions.”
Mr. Hanick moved to Greece in May 2015 to develop a Greek television network that would “associate with the Russian television network”, the indictment says. According to the indictment, Mr Hanick later wrote to Mr Malofeev that the network would be an “opportunity to detail Russia’s views on Greek TV”.
He also worked on behalf of Mr Malofeev in 2015 to acquire a Bulgarian television network, traveling to the country and taking steps to conceal the oligarch’s role, the indictment says.
Interviewed by FBI agents in February 2021, Mr. Hanick admitted learning that Mr. Malofeev faced US sanctions within months of their announcement, according to the indictment. But he lied saying he did not know Mr Malofeev had any connection to the Bulgarian network until he heard about it in the media, the indictment says.
Mr. Malofeev has long been a strong advocate of a return to monarchy in Russia. He told the Guardian in 2017 that he fell in love with the idea after falling in love as a teenager with ‘The Lord of the Rings’, which ends with the hero’s ascension to the throne. His law school thesis was on legal ways to restore Russian royalty.
In an interview with The New York Times in his ornate office in Moscow’s Garden Ring in March 2020, he said the “quasi-monarchy” Russia had “basically” become under Mr Putin was “a very good thing”. .
“If we were to now start calling him Emperor, not President, then we wouldn’t have to change much of the Constitution,” he added.
Michael M. Grynbaum contributed reporting. Sheelagh McNeill contributed research.