SANCTIONS

US seeks to seize superyacht linked to Russian oligarch after its surprise arrival in Fiji

The Amadea, believed to be owned by sanctioned gold tycoon Suleiman Kerimov, is the latest target in an international search for luxury vessels linked to close allies of Vladimir Putin.

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A luxury yacht linked to a Russian oligarch with close ties to the Kremlin may soon end up in the hands of U.S. authorities, prosecutors in the island nation of Fiji said Tuesday.

The superyacht’s suspected owner, according to multiple news reports, is Suleiman Kerimov, a gold tycoon and elected member of Russia’s parliament. Fijian authorities seized the vessel late last week after the ship unexpectedly sailed into the country’s waters without proper customs clearance, according to local press reports.

Fijian prosecutors announced that the United States is seeking to seize the yacht and that the Fijian government is working to facilitate the handover.

The yacht is the latest target of a widespread hunt by Western nations for assets of Russia’s richest oligarchs in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“We continue to ratchet up the pressure on Putin’s oligarchs and we are working with allies and partners to go after corrupt gains from some of the individuals closest to Putin, no matter where they are held around the world,” said Stephanie Fitzmaurice, a spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy in Fiji, told ICIJ.

Fitzmaurice referred specifics of the yacht case in Fiji to the U.S. Department of Justice, which declined to comment.

The announcement follows an investigation by ICIJ and  partner publications into the offshore financial empire of Kerimov and his closest associates. The investigation showed billions of dollars flowing through opaque offshore shell companies associated with Kerimov. In many cases, these secretive transfers stumped bank compliance officers trying to understand who was behind the massive wires.

The Kerimov reporting is part of Pandora Papers Russia, a new effort by ICIJ and global partners to shed light on covert money flows tied to oligarchs and others close to the Kremlin in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The project also highlighted offshore professionals who have helped oligarchs secretly buy luxury assets like yachts and jets.

Kerimov is known for throwing lavish parties and a close relationship with Vladimir Putin. He was sanctioned by the United States in 2018. Britain and the European Union followed suit this year.

ICIJ’s reporting on the secretive offshore empire associated with Kerimov illustrates just how difficult it can be to track down Russian wealth. Russia’s elites have turned to secretive shell companies and savvy middlemen to hide money, boats and homes  — and for decades, banks and government authorities have proved woefully unable to follow their trail.

A yacht agent in Fiji representing the luxury ship told Reuters that he did not know who the owner of the yacht is and said that the matter is being handled by a set of attorneys. Speaking with ICIJ, the agent, Chase Smith, declined to comment on any details surrounding the yacht and its ownership.

According to Boat International, the Amadea is 348 feet long and was completed by a German luxury shipbuilding company in 2017 under secretive circumstances.

The ship belongs to an array of massively expensive luxury items linked to Kerimov, including private jets and sportscars, including a $650,000 Ferrari that Kerimov totaled in a fiery crash on the French Riviera. ICIJ’s reporting showed that, in 2012, a firm registered in the name of Kerimov’s nephew worked with Credit Suisse to secure a $67 million loan for the acquisition of a custom-built Boeing 737 Business Jet. A few years later, an article in Forbes Russia described Kerimov as owning the same kind of Boeing jet.

Fijian prosecutors told ICIJ that they filed  a motion with the nation’s high court to secure a summons under a law that allows a foreign government to seize assets within the island nation’s territory.

The yacht’s current legal status isn’t entirely clear. Fiji’s Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions said it is seeking orders forcing the yacht to be held in a Fijian port and “that a U.S. warrant to seize the Amadea be registered.”

Last month, the U.S. Justice Department created the so-called KleptoCapture task force involving key government agencies that will work with an international group of allies to share financial intelligence and seek to freeze and seize assets of Russian oligarchs. The U.S. Treasury Department’s office responsible for collecting financial intelligence from banks requested last week that financial institutions step up their efforts to collect information on Russian oligarchs’ financial activities.

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