Fiji turns over yacht allegedly owned by Russian oligarch to US
The ruling ends an eight-week legal battle over the $300m Amadea yacht, allegedly owned by Suleiman Kerimov.
A court in Fiji has handed a superyacht allegedly owned by a sanctioned Russian oligarch to United States authorities following a lengthy court process.
The $300m Amadea yacht, which Washington says is linked to sanctioned Russian billionaire Suleiman Kerimov, was seized upon arriving in the Pacific island nation in April at the request of the US. The move came amid a wider push by US officials and other countries to enforce sanctions against influential Russians, particularly by seizing luxury assets including yachts.
The Amadea’s seizure was held up in Fijian courts after the yacht’s registered owner, Millemarin Investments, requested a delay. However, on Tuesday, Supreme Court President and Chief Justice Kamal Kumar dismissed that application.
Director of Public Prosecutions Christopher Pryde said the judge’s ruling meant a US Justice Department warrant to seize the boat had been accepted.
“The decision acknowledges Fiji’s commitment to respecting international mutual assistance requests and Fiji’s international obligations,” Pryde said in a statement.
“The court accepted the validity of the US warrant and agreed that issues concerning money laundering and ownership need to be decided in the court of original jurisdiction, in this case, the US District Court of Columbia,” he added. “The Amadea has been handed over to US authorities and will now leave Fiji.”
The US sanctioned Kerimov in 2014 and 2018 for malfeasance, including money laundering. He has since been further sanctioned by several countries as well as the European Union following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24.
The US Justice Department has described Kerimov “as part of a group of Russian oligarchs who profit from the Russian government through corruption and its malign activity around the globe”.
In March, the department launched the task force KleptoCapture, aimed specifically at seizing yachts and other luxury assets to put the finances of Russian oligarchs under strain in a bid to pressure Russian President Vladimir Putin.
US President Joe Biden later requested that Congress give him the authority to use the proceeds of seized Russian assets to benefit Ukraine, an unorthodox approach that has reportedly set off an internal administration debate over the legality of such a move and the precedent it would set.
In early April, the US seized a 77.5-metre (254-foot) yacht in Spain owned by Viktor Vekselberg, a billionaire and close Putin ally who heads the Moscow-based Renova Group, a conglomerate encompassing metals, mining, tech and other assets.
In May, Italian authorities impounded a 140-metre (460-foot) yacht, saying an investigation found “significant economic and business links” between the yacht’s owner and “prominent elements of the Russian government”, but did not specifically name the Russian president.
It was not immediately clear where US authorities would take the most recently seized yacht, which reportedly boasts a helipad, pool, jacuzzi and “winter garden” on its sun deck.