WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — A judge in Fiji has ruled U.S. authorities can seize a Russian-owned superyacht — but has suspended his order until at least Friday while defense attorneys mount a challenge.
The yacht Amadea – worth $325million – had previously been prevented from leaving the South Pacific nation due to its ties to Russia. This order will remain for now, preventing US authorities from taking the yacht to Hawaii or elsewhere.
The question remains as to which of the two Russian oligarchs actually owns Amadea, with only one facing sanctions. There are also questions about the extent of US jurisdiction in Fiji.
Suva High Court Judge Deepthi Amaratunga on Tuesday issued an order allowing the United States to seize the superyacht after the United States had previously filed a warrant. But the judge also allowed a break while defense attorneys prepare their recusal.
The judge’s next decision in the case will come on Friday, when he decides whether to continue to stay the yacht’s seizure pending a formal defense appeal.
The US Department of Justice announced in March the creation of a team of federal agents and prosecutors to prosecute wealthy Russians or those who help Russia invade Ukraine. The team, called Task Force KleptoCapture, was set up to seize assets belonging to the oligarchs in a bid to pressure Russia to end the war.
The United States claims that the real owner of the superyacht Amadea is Suleiman Kerimov. The economist and former Russian politician was sanctioned by the United States in 2018 for alleged money laundering and faced further sanctions from Canada, Europe, Britain and other countries after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Kerimov made his fortune investing in Russian gold producer Polyus, with Forbes magazine valuing his net worth at $14.5 billion.
But defense lawyers say the real owner is Eduard Khudainatov, the former chairman and CEO of Rosneft, Russia’s state-controlled oil and gas company. Khudainatov does not currently appear to face any sanctions, unlike many oligarchs and people close to Russian President Vladimir Putin who have been sanctioned since the start of the war.
As with many superyachts, it is difficult to determine the true owner of the Amadea due to the murky trail of trusts and shell companies. On paper, the superyacht is registered in the Cayman Islands and is owned by Millemarin Investments Ltd., also based in the Cayman Islands.
Defense lawyers claimed in court that Millemarin Investments Ltd. is the legal owner of the vessel and that the company is related to the actual or beneficial owner, Khudainatov. But US authorities have claimed that behind all fronts the true owner is Kerimov.
On April 19, after the yacht sailed to Fiji from Mexico, the High Court in Suva ordered that the Amadea not leave Fiji until the merits of the US warrant for the arrest of the vessel were cleared. determined. Perhaps reflecting the ownership issue, the court later ordered Fijian prosecutors to amend an original summons, which only named Kerimov, to also include Millemarin Investments Ltd. as the second defendant in the case.
For now, the yacht continues to sit in a Fijian harbor with its crew of around 25 circling on and off the vessel, while a police officer remains on board to ensure it remains in place.
According to Boat International, the Amadea is 106 meters long and was built in 2017. It features a stainless steel albatross that extends from the bow and weighs over 5 tonnes, a live lobster tank in the galley, a 10-meter (33-ft) swimming pool, a hand-painted Pleyel piano and a large helipad.
The US Embassy in Suva said in a statement earlier that the US was acting with allies and partners around the world to impose costs on Russia for its “war of choice”.
“We continue to increase the pressure on Putin’s oligarchs and we work with allies and partners to pursue the corrupt gains of some of the individuals closest to Putin, no matter where they are held around the world,” he said. the embassy.