WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The United States won a lawsuit on Tuesday to seize a Russian-owned superyacht in Fiji and wasted no time in taking command of the $325 million vessel and getting it from to sail away from the South Pacific nation.
The court ruling marked a significant victory for the US as it encounters obstacles in its attempts to seize the assets of Russian oligarchs around the world. While these efforts are welcomed by many opposed to the war in Ukraine, some actions have tested the limits of American jurisdiction abroad.
In Fiji, the country’s Supreme Court overturned a stay order that had prevented the US from impounding the superyacht Amadea.
Chief Justice Kamal Kumar ruled that defense lawyers’ chances of filing an appeal, which the Supreme Court would hear, were “zero to very slim” based on the evidence.
Kumar said he accepts arguments that mooring the superyacht in Fiji at Lautoka Harbor “would cost the Fijian government dearly”.
“The fact that US authorities have committed to pay costs incurred by the Fijian government is completely irrelevant,” the judge said. He said the Amadea “sailed into Fiji waters without a permit and most likely to avoid prosecution by the United States of America”.
The US removed the motorized vessel within an hour or two of the court decision, possibly to ensure the yacht was not subject to further legal action.
Anthony Coley, a spokesman for the US Department of Justice, said on Twitter that the superyacht had sailed bound for the US under a new flag and that US authorities are grateful to the police and prosecutors in Fiji “for their tenacity and devotion to the rule of law.” made this action possible.”
In early May, the Justice Department issued a statement saying the Amadea had been seized in Fiji, but that turned out to be premature after lawyers appealed.
It wasn’t immediately clear where the US planned to take the Amadea, which the FBI has linked to Russian oligarch Suleiman Kerimov.
Fiji’s chief prosecutor, Christopher Pryde, said unresolved issues of money laundering and ownership of the Amadea needed to be decided in the US
“The decision recognizes Fiji’s obligation to respect international requests for assistance and Fiji’s international obligations,” Pryde said.
In court documents, the FBI linked the Amadea to the Kerimov family through their alleged use of code names on board and purchase of items such as a pizza oven and spa bed. The ship became the target of Task Force KleptoCapture, which was created in March to seize assets from Russian oligarchs and pressure Russia to end the war.
The 106-meter (348-foot) ship, 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, representing paper owner Millemarin Investments, had argued the owner was another wealthy Russian who, unlike Kerimov, was not facing sanctions.
The US acknowledged that Eduard Khudainatov appeared to be the owner, but said he was also the paper owner of a second and even larger superyacht, the Scheherazade, which has been linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The US questioned whether Khudainatov could really afford two superyachts totaling more than $1 billion.
“The fact that Khudainatov is being held as the owner of two of the largest superyachts of all time, both associated with sanctioned individuals, suggests that Khudainatov is being used as a clean, unsanctioned straw owner to disguise true beneficial owners.” , the FBI wrote 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 over $100,000 in cash. It then sailed thousands of miles (kilometers) across the Pacific Ocean to Fiji.
The Justice Department said it didn’t believe the papers showed the Amadea was next headed for the Philippines, arguing that she was really destined for Vladivostok or elsewhere in Russia.
The department said they found a text message on a crew member’s phone that read, “We’re not flying to Russia,” followed by a “shhh” emoji.
The US said Kerimov secretly bought the Cayman Islands-flagged Amadea through various shell companies last year. The FBI said a search warrant in Fiji turned up emails showing Kerimov’s children were aboard the ship that year and that the crew used code names — G0 for Kerimov, G1 for his wife, G2 for his daughter and so on.
Kerimov made a fortune investing in Russian gold producer Polyus, with Forbes magazine putting his net worth at $14.5 billion. The US first sanctioned him in 2018 after he was arrested in France and accused of money laundering there, some with suitcases stuffed with 20 million euros.
Khudainatov is the former chairman and chief executive officer of Rosneft, the Russian state-controlled oil and gas company.
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