By Gaspard Sebag
(Bloomberg) –Sanctioned Russian billionaire Alexey Kuzmichev has notched up another victory in his fight with French authorities who raided his Riviera yachts after they were targeted by an asset freeze.
A judge ruled that custom officers broke procedural rules when they swooped to immobilize one of Kuzmichev’s vessels moored in the port of Cannes, days after he was added to the European Union’s sanctions list in reaction to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“The raid report of the ‘La Petite Ourse II’ vessel makes no reference to any suspicion of fraud,” such as evading sanctions, said Bruno Le Bécachel, the judge from the court of appeals of Rouen in northern France.
Since that should have been the justification for boarding the yacht, the judge ruled that customs officials had “clearly misused” French rules that allow them to inspect vessels, and canceled the raid and subsequent immobilization report.
Despite this victory and a similar one in Paris concerning a second yacht, Kuzmichev is unlikely to be able to move his boats as both remain targeted by the EU’s freeze and authorities may see it as an attempt to circumvent sanctions. In March, France blocked the superyacht “Amore Vero,” which has been linked to oil giant Rosneft PJSC’s chief executive officer Igor Sechin, amid suspicions it was being prepared for a swift departure. Its owner is now facing a criminal probe.
Reas More: Russian Billionaire Sues France Over Seized Yachts
On Friday, the Rouen judge was also critical of customs officials for failing to properly inform the captain of “La Petite Ourse II” that he could oppose the raid.
Customs authorities didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Kuzmichev’s attorney Philippe Blanchetier declined to provide a statement after the ruling.
During the hearing in this case in October, Blanchetier suggested that customs officials had pointlessly intruded and bent the law.
“There was no point in notifying the asset freeze, and no legal basis to do so, because the addition of Mr. Kuzmichev’s name in the EU’s Official Journal is sufficient notification in of itself,” he said. The billionaire’s legal team is contesting the decision to sanction him in the EU courts.
© 2022 Bloomberg L.P.
Weekly Insights from the Helm
Dive into a sea of information with our meticulously curated weekly “Dispatch” email. It’s more than just a newsletter; it’s your personal maritime briefing.