US wins latest legal battle to seize Russian yacht in Fiji

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The United States on Friday won the latest round of a legal battle to seize a Russian-owned superyacht valued at $325 million in Fiji, and the case now appears headed to the nation’s highest court. Peaceful.

The case has highlighted the thorny legal ground The United States is in its attempt to seize the assets of Russian oligarchs around the world. Those intentions are welcomed by many governments and citizens who oppose the war in Ukraine, but some actions raise questions about how far US jurisdiction extends.

The Fiji Court of Appeal on Friday dismissed an appeal by Feizal Haniff, who represents the company that legally owns the Amadea superyacht. Haniff had argued that the US had no jurisdiction under Fiji’s mutual assistance laws to seize the ship, at least until a court determined who actually owned the Amadea.

Haniff said he now plans to take the case to the Fiji Supreme Court and will seek an injunction to stop US agents from sailing the Amadea from Fiji before the appeal is heard.

As part of its ruling, the appeals court ordered that his sentence not go into effect for seven days, presumably to allow time for appeals.

The United States argues that its investigation has found that behind several fronts, the Cayman Islands-flagged luxury yacht is actually owned by sanctioned Russian oligarch Suleiman Kerimov, a Russian economist and former politician.

Kerimov made a fortune investing in Russian gold producer Polyus, and Forbes magazine put his net worth at $16 billion. The United States first sanctioned him in 2018 after he was arrested in France and accused of money laundering there, sometimes arriving with suitcases full of 20 million euros.

The FBI linked the Amadea to the Kerimov family through their alleged use of code names while on board and the purchase of items such as a pizza oven and whirlpool bed. The ship became a target of Task Force KleptoCapture, launched in March to seize assets from Russian oligarchs to pressure Russia to end the war.

The 348-foot (106-meter) 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 paper’s owner Millemarin Investments, argues that the owner is another wealthy Russian facing no sanctions, Eduard Khudainatov. He is the former chairman and CEO of Rosneft, the state-controlled Russian oil and gas company.

The United States acknowledges that the paperwork appears to show Khudainatov is the owner, but says he is also the paper owner of a second and even larger superyacht, the Scheherazade, which has been linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin. The United States questions whether Khudainatov could really afford two superyachts worth more than a billion dollars in total.

“The fact that Khudainatov is portrayed as the owner of two of the largest registered superyachts, both linked to sanctioned individuals, suggests that Khudainatov is being used as a clean and unsanctioned figurehead to hide the true beneficiaries,” the FBI said. . he wrote in a court affidavit.

The United States claims that Kerimov secretly bought Amadea last year through shell companies. The FBI said a search warrant in Fiji turned up emails showing Kerimov’s children were on board the ship this year and that the crew used code names: G0 for Kerimov, G1 for his wife, G2 for their daughter, etc.

The FBI said crew members discuss a possible “upcoming G0 guest trip” and point out that he wants the fastest jet skis available, so they’ll have to buy new jet skis.

In his appeal, Haniff argues that the US case is based on rumors spread by anonymous crew members, and there is no evidence that Khudainatov cannot afford an investment in two superyachts.

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

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