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All You Need To Know About Russian Yacht Arrests

Bloomberg
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March 2, 2022

Superyachts of incredible size have become the symbol of oligarch-sized wealth and now, with the Ruble crashing and anti-Russian sanctions proliferating… the yacht is in the crosshairs of governments and saboteurs.

Superyachts Migrate To The Maldives 

By Kevin Varley (Bloomberg) A growing number of superyachts belonging to Russian tycoons have made their way to the Indian Ocean, cruising around the Maldives and Seychelles just as sanctions are imposed on their homeland following Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. 

The four biggest luxury yachts in the Maldives right now are Russian-owned, according to an analysis of vessel data by Bloomberg News. The largest, the 459-foot (140-meter) Ocean Victory, belongs to steel magnate Victor Rashnikov, according to SuperyachtFan.com, while another — the 238-foot Clio — is linked to aluminum tycoon Oleg Deripaska.

The 465-foot Nord, owned by Alexei Mordashov, another steel billionaire, is in the Seychelles after sailing from the Maldives, the data show. Russian banker Andrey Kostin’s Sea Rhapsody is heading to the island chain after departing Turkey on Feb. 18.

An estimated 7% to 10% of the global superyacht fleet is owned by Russians, according to industry watcher Superyacht Group. Overall yacht counts have dipped to 10 from 19 this time last year in the Maldives, while they’ve climbed from five to 12 in the Seychelles, a former British colony known for its palm-fringed islands and sandy beaches. 

The movements come as the U.S. signals it will take aim at Russian business leaders’ assets as part of its economic campaign against Moscow over the invasion. In his State of the Union address Tuesday, President Joe Biden said that the U.S. and its allies are preparing to seize the yachts, luxury apartments and private jets of wealthy, politically connected Russians.

“We are coming for your ill-begotten gains,” Biden said. 

Usmanov’s Superyacht To Be Seized in Germany

Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov’s superyacht, the world’s largest by volume, was seized by German authorities in Hamburg, according to Forbes.

The German government has frozen the Dilbar, Usmanov’s 512-foot yacht, the publication said, citing three unidentified industry sources. Built in 2016 and named after his mother, the boat is estimated to be worth $594 million, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

The European Union adopted sanctions on six of Russia’s wealthiest individuals on Monday, including Usmanov, who called the decision “unfair” and “defamatory.” The Dilbar had been undergoing refitting in the northern German city.

Superyachts and other opulent displays of wealth among Russia’s elite have drawn intense scrutiny since the country’s invasion of Ukraine, even making it into U.S. President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address.

Five other individuals were named in the latest EU sanctions: Mikhail Fridman, Petr Aven, Alexey Mordashov, Gennady Timchenko and Alexander Ponomarenko. Mordashov owns two superyachts: the Nord, which is in the Seychelles, and Lady M, anchored in Imperia, Italy. 

Some Russian tycoons also still have superyachts docked in Europe. Roman Abramovich’s Solaris is in Barcelona; Iskandar Makhmudov’s Predator is in Genoa, Italy; and Vagit Alekperov’s Galactic Super Nova is in Montenegro, among others, according to data tracked by Bloomberg.

Usmanov, 68, owns a major stake in USM, a Russian investment group with holdings in Metalloinvest, one of the world’s largest iron ore producers, and telecommunications company MegaFon. He’s the sixth-richest Russian with a fortune of $19.5 billion, according to Bloomberg’s wealth index, though that figure includes the Dilbar. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin has also been sanctioned by U.S., EU and U.K. authorities. He has been linked by news organizations including Business Insider to the superyacht Graceful. 

That boat left Hamburg Feb. 7, about two weeks before Russia invaded Ukraine. It’s now in Kaliningrad, Russia. 

Ukraine Mechanic Arrested for Sabotage

A Ukrainian mechanic said he tried to sink a Russian tycoon’s superyacht in Majorca, the largest island off the eastern coast of Spain, after seeing a video of Russia’s attack on Kyiv.

Taras Ostapchuk was accused in a local court of opening valves in the engine room of the vessel, called Lady Anastasia, according to the Wall Street Journal. The yacht belongs to Alexander Mikheev, the chief executive officer of Rosoboronexport, a Russian weapons exporter.

“There was a video of a helicopter attack on a building in Kyiv, the Russians are killing innocents,” Ostapchuk, who had worked on the yacht for 10 years, said in court, according to the Journal. “I don’t regret anything I’ve done and I would do it again.”

He was released pending an investigation. 

The Russian elite’s yachts and private jets, two of the most opulent displays of massive wealth, have drawn public scrutiny in the wake of the country’s invasion of Ukraine last week. They’re usually parked all over the globe, though recent sanctions are set to limit their travels.  

Lady Anastasia isn’t the only Russian-owned yacht currently in Palma, the resort city in the Balearic Islands. Viktor Vekselberg’s yacht Tango is also in Majorca, according to data tracked by Bloomberg. 

Vekselberg is the chairman of Renova, an investment group that owns a stake in Russia’s biggest aluminum company, United Co. Rusal. He’s also Russia’s seventh-richest person, with a fortune of $16.9 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Barcelona’s Boats

Spain hosts another three Russian-linked superyachts in Barcelona. Until recently the collection included Lukoil PJSC Chairman Vagit Alekperov’s Galactic Super Nova. On Saturday it departed for Montenegro, arriving in Tivat earlier on Tuesday.

One vessel still anchored in Barcelona: Roman Abramovich’s 461-foot Solaris, which was completed last year at an estimated cost of $600 million, according to the website Superyacht Fan.

Lady Anastasia is on sale for $7.2 million and has been on the market since April, according to the Journal.

After his release, Ostapchuk said he would fly to Poland and head to Ukraine to fight against the Russians, according to local newspaper Ultima Hora.

“I’m a middle-aged man, but I have a lot of experience as a mechanic,” he said. “I’ve never held a weapon, but if necessary I will.”

USDOJ ‘KleptoCapture’ Unit Will Arrest Russian Yachts

The Justice Department announced details of a new inter-agency task force designed to enforce sanctions and export restrictions and to seize yachts and luxury assets belonging to Russia’s wealthiest citizens as the U.S. and its allies step up pressure over the invasion of Ukraine.

The “KleptoCapture” task force will gather experts in sanctions and export control enforcement, anti-corruption, asset forfeiture, anti-money laundering, tax enforcement, national security investigations, and foreign evidence collection, DOJ said in a statement on Wednesday. It will be led by a veteran corruption prosecutor from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.

“What we’re doing with this task force is to send a very clear and unmistakable message to those who seek to use corruptly gathered money and who seek to evade sanctions: that we’re coming for you,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said in an interview with Emily Chang on “Bloomberg Technology.” “We’re coming for your yacht. We’re coming for your jet. We’re coming for your ledger. That’s the key message.”

The group’s creation is the latest sign of how the U.S. and its allies are seeking to isolate Russia from the international financial system as President Vladimir Putin’s military presses forward in its war on Ukraine. President Joe Biden announced the task force during his State of the Union address on Tuesday.

Amid international outrage over the war, pressure has been rising to seize the superyachts, jets, properties, and other luxury assets of Russian oligarchs who are seen as lending support to Putin.

“We will leave no stone unturned in our efforts to investigate, arrest, and prosecute those whose criminal acts enable the Russian government to continue this unjust war,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said. “Let me be clear: If you violate our laws, we will hold you accountable.”

Along with prosecuting sanctions violations and efforts to undermine restrictions against Russian banks, the task force will target “efforts to use cryptocurrency to evade U.S. sanctions, launder proceeds of foreign corruption or evade U.S. responses to Russian military aggression,” according to the statement.

The way the task force is organized means it’s likely to benefit from increased support from U.S. intelligence agencies and cooperation from other countries that have pledged to counter Russia’s aggression, said Drew Hruska, a former Justice Department official, and federal prosecutor.

“This appears to be a paradigm shift for law enforcement,” said Hruska, who’s now a partner at the law firm King & Spalding LLP.

By Jill R. Shah, Tom Maloney, Kevin Varley, Chris Strohm © 2022 Bloomberg L.P.

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