Custom officers in France have seized a yacht belonging to Rosneft boss Igor Sechin as it tried to leave the Mediterranean port of La Ciotat in a breach of European Union sanctions on Russian oligarchs, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said.
The incident came as Western states are rapidly implementing severe sanctions, including asset freezes, against Russia for invading its neighbour Ukraine.
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The 88-metre (289-foot) “Amore Vero” arrived in La Ciotat on January 3 and was due to stay there until April 1 for repairs, the finance ministry said in a statement on Thursday, adding that the vessel was subject to the new sanctions.
But on Wednesday, customs officers noted the yacht was “taking steps to sail off urgently, without the repair works being over”, the statement said, adding that the officers therefore decided to seize it.
The finance ministry said the yacht belongs to a company whose main shareholder is Sechin, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
It did not name the company.
Monaco-based Imperial Yachts, which according to Refinitiv data is linked to Amore Vero, told Reuters news agency the yacht was owned by a firm called Kazimo, which appointed them as managers of the boat in 2018.
“The individual you name is not connected with either Kazimo nor the yacht,” a representative for Imperial Yachts told Reuters when asked about Sechin.
“Kazimo’s lawyers are in touch with French Douane in order to correct the record,” they said.
The finance ministry did not immediately return a request for comment.
The superyacht was built by Oceanco in the Netherlands and delivered to its owner in 2013, according to yachtcharterfleet.com, which says its on-board features include a beauty salon and gym. It sails under the flag of the Cayman Islands, according to Eikon data.
Sechin is seen as one of Russia’s most powerful men who has worked with Putin since the 1990s when they both worked in the Saint Petersburg mayor’s office.
French authorities on Thursday also seized a Russian-owned cargo vessel at the port of Lorient, Brittany.
The EU, the United States and the United Kingdom have announced sanctions against Russian tycoons who are closely connected to Putin.
These included sanctions against Sechin, pipeline boss Nikolay Tokarev, bankers Mikhail Fridman and Petr Aven and others.
Paris has said it is drawing up a list of assets in France owned by oligarchs, including yachts and luxury cars, with the southern Rivera coastline long being a magnet for the rich and famous.
“If I were an oligarch, in Russia or France, I’d be worried,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Monday.
US President Joe Biden has also tasked the Department of Justice with assembling a task force “to find and seize their yachts, their luxury apartments their private jets”.
Meanwhile, at least five superyachts owned by Russian billionaires were anchored or cruising in the Maldives, an Indian Ocean island nation that has no extradition treaty with the US, ship tracking data showed.
The superyacht Clio, owned by Oleg Deripaska, the founder of aluminium giant Rusal who was sanctioned by the United States in 2018, was anchored off the Maldives capital Male on Wednesday, according to shipping database MarineTraffic.
The Titan, owned by Alexander Abramov, a co-founder of Russian steel producer Evraz, arrived on February 28.
Three other yachts owned by Russian oligarchs were seen cruising in Maldives waters on Wednesday, the data showed. They included the 88-metre Nirvana, owned by Russia’s richest man, Vladimir Potanin. Most of the vessels were last seen anchored in Middle Eastern ports earlier in the year.
A spokesperson for the Maldives government did not respond to a request for comment.