WELLINGTON, New Zealand — The United States won a legal battle on Tuesday to seize a Russian-owned superyacht in Fiji and wasted no time in taking command of the $325million ship and moving it away from the nation. of the South Pacific.
The court ruling represented a significant victory for the United States, as it faces obstacles in its attempts to seize the assets of Russian oligarchs around the world. While these efforts are welcomed by many who oppose the war in Ukraine, some actions have tested the limits of American jurisdiction abroad.
In Fiji, the country’s Supreme Court has lifted a stay order that had prevented the United States from seizing superyacht Amadea.
Chief Justice Kamal Kumar ruled that based on the evidence, the chances of the defense attorneys appealing that the higher court would hear were “none to very slim”.
Kumar said he accepts arguments that keeping the superyacht moored in Fiji in Lautoka Port “was very costly to the Fijian government”.
“The fact that the American authorities have undertaken to pay the costs incurred by the Fijian government is completely irrelevant,” concluded the judge. He said the Amadea “sailed in Fiji waters without any license and most likely to escape prosecution by the United States of America”.
The United States removed the motorized vessel an hour or two after the court’s decision, possibly to ensure the yacht did not become entangled in another lawsuit.
Anthony Coley, spokesman for the US Department of Justice, said on Twitter that the superyacht had set sail for the United States under a new flag and that US authorities were grateful to the police and prosecutors in Fiji “whose perseverance and dedication to the rule of law made this action possible.
In early May, the Department of Justice released a statement saying the Amadea had been seized in Fiji, but that proved premature after lawyers appealed.
It was not immediately clear where the United States intended to take the Amadea, which the FBI has linked to Russian oligarch Suleiman Kerimov.
Fiji’s Director of Public Prosecutions, Christopher Pryde, said the unresolved issues of money laundering and ownership of the Amadea must be decided in the United States.
“The decision recognizes Fiji’s commitment to respect international mutual assistance requests and Fiji’s international obligations,” Pryde said.
In court documents, the FBI linked the Amadea to the Kerimov family through their alleged use of onboard code names and purchase of items such as a pizza oven and spa bed. The ship became the target of Task Force KleptoCapture, launched in March to seize the assets of Russian oligarchs to pressure Russia to end the war.
The 106-meter (348-foot) long vessel, about the length of a football field, features a live lobster tank, a hand-painted piano, a swimming pool and a large helipad.
Lawyer Feizal Haniff, who represented the owner of the paper Millemarin Investments, had argued that the owner was another wealthy Russian who, unlike Kerimov, does not face penalties.
The United States has acknowledged that the documents appeared to show Eduard Khudainatov as the owner, but said he was also the paper owner of a second, even larger superyacht, the Scheherazade, which has been linked to the Russian president. Vladimir Poutine.
The United States questioned whether Khudainatov could really afford two superyachts with a total value of more than a billion dollars.
“The fact that Khudainatov is presented as the owner of two of the largest superyachts ever registered, both linked to sanctioned individuals, suggests that Khudainatov is being used as a clean, unauthorized straw owner to conceal the true beneficial owners,” said the FBI. written in a court affidavit.
Court documents say the Amadea turned off its transponder shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine and sailed from the Caribbean through the Panama Canal to Mexico, arriving with more than $100,000 in cash. He then traveled thousands of miles (kilometers) across the Pacific Ocean to Fiji.
The Justice Department said it did not believe documents showing the Amadea was then heading to the Philippines, arguing it was really destined for Vladivostok or elsewhere in Russia.
The department said it found a text message on a crew member’s phone that read, “We’re not going to Russia” followed by a “shh” emoji.
The United States said Kerimov secretly purchased Cayman Islands-flagged Amadea last year through various front companies. The FBI said a search warrant in Fiji revealed emails showing Kerimov’s children were on the ship this year and that the crew used codenames – G0 for Kerimov, G1 for his wife, G2 for his daughter, etc.
Kerimov made his fortune investing in Russian gold producer Polyus, with Forbes magazine valuing his net worth at $14.5 billion. The United States first sanctioned him in 2018 after he was detained in France and accused of money laundering there, sometimes arriving with suitcases stuffed with 20 million euros.
Khudainatov is the former chairman and CEO of Rosneft, Russia’s state-controlled oil and gas company.