FFor several months, the mysterious 140-meter-long, six-storey super yacht has towered over the smaller boats at the shipyard in Marina di Carrara, a town on Italy’s Tuscan coast, sparking discussions among its inhabitants about the identity of its wealthy owner.
“It’s the biggest yacht I’ve ever seen here,” said Suzy Dimitrova, a boat owner in the marina. “There are people cleaning all the time. The last time I saw him leave [the shipyard] it was last year. We all wonder who the owner is.
The Scheherezade, whose value is estimated at $700 million, is being investigated by Italian authorities for potential links to sanctioned Russians. And activists working with imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny have no doubt the yacht belongs to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
On Monday, investigative journalist Maria Pevchikh and anti-corruption campaigner Georgy Alburov said all crew members, obtained from a December 2020 list, were Russian except for the captain. In a video posted on YouTube, they claimed that some of the yacht’s staff worked for the Russian Federal Service (FSO), an agency that handles the security of senior officials, including Putin.
Activists, who have urged Italian authorities to seize the yacht, said the information proves it belongs to Putin. “They are Russian state employees, military personnel, and they regularly travel to Italy in groups to work on the mysterious yacht,” Pevchikh wrote on Twitter.
The ship’s interior was described as being equipped with a spa, swimming pools, two helipads, a wood-burning fireplace, and a pool table designed to tilt to reduce the impact of the waves.
Marina di Carrara is close to Forte dei Marmi, a favorite holiday destination of Russian oligarchs, many of whom brought villas and resorts.
In early March, Italian police seized a yacht belonging to Alexei Mordashov, Russia’s richest man before being blacklisted by the European Union, and another belonging to Gennady Timchenko, a billionaire close to Putin , in the Ligurian port of Imperia.
The yacht can only be seen through a fence, where it continues to undergo a refit, due to be completed next year, at a shipyard owned by The Italian Sea Group, a company that refits and builds luxury yachts.
The mystery surrounding her owner escalated in early March, when Carrara finance police boarded the yacht as EU sanctions against Russian oligarchs came into effect following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Police seized the ownership documents of the yacht’s British captain, Guy Bennett-Pearce. At the time, US officials told The New York Times they were also investigating whether the yacht belonged to Putin.
The Italian Sea Group said in a statement that it was continuing to work on the refit and maintenance of the €6 million ship despite EU sanctions and that, according to documents in its possession, the vessel “is not attributable to the property of Russian President Vladimir Putin,” nor does it belong to a Russian on the sanctions list.
A source from the Carrara Financial Police Unit told the Guardian they now know who the owner is and will be making an announcement soon.
An investigation by La Stampa newspaper earlier this month linked the vessel to Eduard Yurievich Khudainatov, the former chairman of Russian state oil company Rosneft, through a shell company registered in the Marshall Islands.
But the Italian police would be certain that Khudainatov is not the real owner of the yacht. “He appears to be a man connected to Putin’s inner circle but not wealthy enough to own a yacht like the Scheherazade,” said Jacopo Iacoboni, the La Stampa journalist who led the investigation.
While waiting for the Italian police to reveal their conclusions, the inhabitants of Marina di Carrara continue to reflect, even if their presence worries them. “Putin is the alleged owner, and watching him now causes me a lot of anxiety because of what he is doing in Ukraine,” Maria Cristina said.
However, there are no signs of planned protests. “There are always lots of words, but little action here,” Dimitrova said.