US hires new crew, sails seized Russian megayacht to Hawaii
Bloomberg June 16, 2022
U.S. authorities are sailing the $325 million superyacht they seized last week that’s linked to Russian billionaire Suleiman Kerimov to Hawaii — a big win as the US looks to confiscate Russian assets and punish oligarchs for their country’s invasion of Ukraine.
The 348-foot Amadea, now sailing under an American flag and manned by an all-new crew, is headed toward the U.S. Hawaiian islands and was last spotted about 160 miles from Honolulu, according to vessel data compiled by Bloomberg and space-based analytics firm Spire Global. That would be a roughly 3,100-mile journey from Fiji, where the Supreme Court lifted a stay on June 7 that had prevented the US from sailing the vessel away from the South Pacific nation after its registered owner mounted a series of legal challenges.
“It makes sense it would be going to Honolulu since it’s the nearest port where the US would be able to berth it and hold it until it can be disposed of in whatever procedure that can be taken,” said Ian Ralby, chief executive of I.R. Consilium, a maritime law and security consultancy. “That’s a quite logical destination.”
What happens to the vessel next will be closely watched.
Deep-pocketed tycoons have filed appeals before to get themselves off European Union sanctions lists and fight asset seizures. The US and other governments will likely face rounds of legal challenges when they move to sell the multimillion-dollar floating palaces and other assets. Already, more than a dozen yachts worth more than $2.25 billion have been seized as part of the push, spurred by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
U.S. President Joe Biden has pushed for legislation that’s been passed by lawmakers in the House of Representatives that would allow the US to seize yachts and other assets of sanctioned Russians, liquidate them and use those funds to benefit Ukraine. The EU is considering similar measures.
The fight over this particular ship centered on its ownership.
The superyacht’s legal owner, Millemarin Investments, has contended the vessel isn’t owned by Kerimov as the US alleges but another Russian tycoon — Eduard Khudainatov, the former chairman and CEO of Russian oil and gas giant Rosneft Oil Co. Khudainatov doesn’t appear to be on any sanctions lists. Counsel for Millemarin didn’t respond to requests for comment. Kerimov and his representatives also didn’t respond.
The U.S. alleges that Khudainatov is “being used as a clean, unsanctioned owner” to conceal the Amadea’s true owner. Kerimov is a Russian gold billionaire who was first sanctioned by Washington in 2018, Bloomberg reported last month.
Millemarin put up a series of legal challenges and appealed to Fiji’s Supreme Court before it ran out of options. Legal challenges over ownership need to be hammered out in the US courts, said Fiji authorities — an argument the courts in Fiji sided with.
Legal experts expect the Russian tycoons connected to seized superyachts and other assets will bring the fight to courts all over the world.
“Clearly, the beneficial owners have very deep pockets,” said Benjamin Maltby, a partner at London-based Keystone Law, who specializes in superyacht law. “They do have a lot of money to pay for lawyers and drag these cases out. They’re not going to just give up their superyachts.”
The U.S. wasted no time after the stay order was lifted June 7, sailing the ship out of Fiji’s waters within hours before another legal challenge could be mounted. The Amadea departed Fiji’s Lautoka port shortly after 1 p.m. It set sail for the US with a new crew of more than 20 hired by US authorities, according to court documents seen by Bloomberg.
The US says layers of offshore shell companies were created to conceal that Kerimov is actually the beneficial owner, with crew members giving code names for the sanctioned billionaire and his family members, according to a US affidavit reported earlier by Bloomberg. Kerimov, a member of Russia’s upper house of parliament, was also sanctioned by the UK and the EU in March for his close ties to Putin.
Kerimov is worth around $13.3 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. His family formerly held nearly half of Polyus, the biggest gold producer in Russia. He beat money-laundering charges in France in 2018.
The Amadea, which features a helipad and mosaic-tiled pool, arrived in Lautoka on April 12 after an 18-day journey from Mexico, data compiled by Bloomberg show. Fiji detained the superyacht the following week after the US government requested mutual legal assistance, according to Fiji’s public prosecutions office.
On May 3, Fiji’s High Court gave the green light for U.S. and local authorities to seize the vessel, but a series of legal challenges from the registered owner ensued. The U.S. has devoted considerable resources to obtaining the yacht, sending officials to Fiji from the United States Marshals Service, the FBI and the U.S. Coast Guard, according to court filings.
The Amadea is among more than a dozen multimillion dollar Russian tycoon-linked megayachts rounded up by Western governments.
Germany has impounded Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov’s superyacht Dilbar, valued at as much as $750 million. Italian authorities arrested a 530 million euro ($556 million) vessel owned billionaire Andrey Melnichenko, while Spain seized Viktor Vekselberg’s $90 million Tango as well as the $600 million Crescent believed to belong to Igor Sechin, head of Moscow-based Rosneft.
The actions by the U.S. and its allies have scattered Russian yachts to locales perceived as less likely to seize them, including Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and the Maldives, according to Spire. Megayachts owned by Russians account for as much as 10% of the global fleet, according to industry watcher The Superyacht Group.