US wins latest legal battle to seize Russian yacht in Fiji

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The United States won the final round of a legal battle on Friday to seize a $325 million Russian superyacht in Fiji, with the case now heading to the highest court in the world. Pacific nation.

The case brought to light the thorny legal terrain the United States finds itself trying to seize the assets of Russian oligarchs around the world. These intentions are welcomed by many governments and citizens who oppose the war in Ukraine, but some actions raise questions about the scope of US jurisdiction.

The Fiji Court of Appeal dismissed on Friday the appeal of Feizal Haniff, who represents the company that legally owns the superyacht Amadea. Haniff had argued that the United States lacked jurisdiction under Fiji’s mutual assistance laws to seize the ship, at least until a court determined who really owned the Amadea.

Haniff said he now plans to take the case to Fiji’s Supreme Court and will seek a court order to stop US officers sailing the Amadea from Fiji before the appeal is heard. .

As part of its ruling, the appeals court ordered that its judgment not take effect for seven days, presumably to allow time for an appeal.

The US says its investigation has revealed that behind various fronts, the Cayman Islands-flagged luxury yacht is actually owned by sanctioned Russian oligarch Suleiman Kerimov, an economist and former Russian politician.

Kerimov made his fortune investing in Russian gold producer Polyus, with Forbes magazine valuing his net worth at $16 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.

The FBI linked the Amadea to the Kerimov family through their alleged use of onboard code names and purchase of items like 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.

Haniff, who represents the owner of paper Millemarin Investments, says the owner is another wealthy Russian who is not facing sanctions, Eduard Khudainatov. He is the former Chairman and CEO of Rosneft, the Russian state-controlled oil and gas company.

The United States acknowledges that the documents appear to show Khudainatov as the owner, but says he is also the paper owner of a second, even larger superyacht, the Scheherazade, which has been linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin. The United States wonders if 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.

The United States claims that Kerimov secretly bought the Amadea last year through 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.

The FBI said the crew members were discussing a possible “upcoming G0 guest trip”, noting that they wanted the fastest jet skis available – so they would have to purchase new jet skis.

In his appeal, Haniff argues that the US case is based on hearsay and rumors spread by anonymous crew members, and there is no evidence that Khudainatov could not afford to invest in two superyachts.

The yacht remains moored at Lautoka Harbour, in the heart of Fiji’s sugar cane region.

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