Wellington, New Zealand (AFP) – The United States on Friday won the final round of a legal battle to seize a $325 million Russian-owned luxury yacht in Fiji, with the case now before the Pacific nation’s Supreme Court.
The case has highlighted the thorny legal ground The United States finds itself trying to expropriate the assets of Russian oligarchs all over the world. These intentions are welcomed by many governments and citizens who oppose the war in Ukraine, but some of the actions raise questions about the extent of the extension of US jurisdiction.
Fiji’s Court of Appeal on Friday rejected an appeal by Faisal Hanif, who legally represents the company that owns the luxury yacht. Hanif argued that the United States had no jurisdiction under Fiji’s mutual assistance laws to seize the ship, at least until the court separated who actually owned the Amadea.
Hanif said he now plans to take the case to Fiji’s High Court and will apply for a court order to prevent US customers from sailing Amadea from Fiji before the appeal is heard.
As part of its ruling, the appeals court ordered that its ruling should not run for seven days, likely to give time for any appeal to be lodged.
The US argues that its investigations have found that behind various fronts, the Cayman Islands-flagged luxury yacht is actually owned by Russian oligarch Suleiman Karimov, a former Russian economist and politician.
Karimov made a fortune investing in Russian gold producer Polius, whose net worth was estimated by Forbes magazine at $16 billion. The United States first sanctioned him in 2018 after he was held in France and accused of money laundering there, sometimes arriving with suitcases full of 20 million euros.
The FBI linked the Amadea family to the Karimov family through their alleged use of code names while on the ship and the purchase of items such as a pizza oven and spa bed. The ship became the target of the KleptoCapture task force, which was launched in March to seize the assets of Russian oligarchs to pressure Russia to end the war.
The 106-meter (348-foot) vessel, the length of a football field, features a live lobster tank, a hand-painted piano, a swimming pool, and a large helipad.
Hanif, who represents Millemarin Investments, the paper’s owner, argues that the owner is another wealthy Russian who does not face penalties, Edward Khdianatov. He is the chairman and former CEO of Rosneft, Russia’s state-controlled oil and gas company.
The US acknowledges that paperwork appears to show Khodinatov is the owner, but also says he is the paper owner of the second and larger superyacht, Scheherazade, which is linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin. The United States is wondering whether Khdianatov is really able to buy two giant yachts with a total value of more than a billion dollars.
“The fact that Khudianatov is considered the owner of two of the largest registered superyachts, both of which are related to sanctioned individuals, indicates that Khudinatov as a clean and unauthorized owner of straw is used to disguise the true beneficial owners,” the FBI wrote in an affidavit.
The United States alleges that Karimov secretly bought Amadea last year through shell companies. The FBI said a search warrant in Fiji revealed emails showing that Karimov’s children had been on the ship this year and that the crew had used code names – G0 for Karimov, G1 for his wife, G2 for his daughter and so on.
The FBI said crew members were discussing “the next G0 guest flight” noting that he wanted the fastest jet skis available — so they would need to buy new jet skis.
In his appeal, Hanif argues that the US case is based on hearsay and rumors spread by unidentified crew members, and there is no evidence that Khdyanatov could not afford an investment in two superyachts.
The yacht is still anchored in Lautoka Harbor in the heart of Fiji’s sugarcane region.
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