Instagram influencers are helping to track down yachts belonging to sanctioned Russian oligarchs

Instagram influencers are helping to track down yachts belonging to sanctioned Russian oligarchs

Social media influencers unwittingly are making it easier for authorities around the world to track down and seize the mega-yachts and other property owned by sanctioned Russian oligarchs. While they've tried to hide their massive vessels in international waters or in ports of countries sympathetic to the Ukraine invasion, it looks like Russian President Vladimir Putin's rich cronies are being betrayed by some of their guests.

Vice News notes that three weeks after Russia invaded Ukraine, Instagram photos showing a young woman making a duck face at a cell phone camera from the back of a luxurious yacht and posing in a bikini next to an emerald-green pool went viral on Twitter.

"Within days," Vice reports, "Polina Kovaleva, said to be the unofficial stepdaughter of Russia’s foreign minister, was banned from entering the United Kingdom, and all her property there was frozen." Decades of fancy, luxurious living have turned out to be enormously useful for investigators tracking down the assets of Russia’s sanctioned elite. In multiple cases, a few posts on Instagram have blown up the best defense for their secret empires: anonymity.

It's not the oligarchs themselves who accidentally give the public a glimpse into their lavish lifestyle. Instead, it’s the people partying with them: a stepdaughter, an ex-wife, or in least one infamous case, an escort.

"The pictures show attractive young women posing on mega-yachts or decked out for tennis on a bright day in London, or rays of sunshine breaking through clouds over the coast. To the trained eye, they are evidence, according to a former CIA officer.

“To be an influencer, you have to show off,” said Alex Finley, who now lives in Spain and engages in her own public-facing effort to track oligarchs’ yachts.

“They’re under a lot of social pressure to show off their wealth. They don’t understand the security rules that are in place, or all the things that people can figure out from a photo,” Finley said. “They think—‘Hey, cool shot!’ They’re a weak link.”

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