U.S. Wins Second Round in Court Battle for Russian Yacht Amadea
The U.S. government has won an appeal of its court petition to seize the Russian-owned yacht Amadea at the port of Lautoka, Fiji.
The Amadea is a 350-foot motor yacht built in Germany in 2016. U.S. authorities believe that her beneficial owner is Suleiman Kerimov, a billionaire with ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. The U.S. Treasury placed Kerimov on its Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) sanctions list in 2018, and he has been blacklisted since. Though no action against his yacht was taken at the time of his listing, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has greatly increased the political will to pursue sanctions enforcement against the assets of the Russian elite.
When she entered Fijian waters in mid-April, the U.S. quickly filed a request for her seizure with local courts. Fiji's High Court ultimately ruled in favor of the American request and allowed the vessel's seizure, though it left room for the yacht's representatives to file for an interim stay on the ruling.
Lawyers for the vessel's holding company, Millemarin Investments, claim that she is owned by former Rosneft executive Eduard Khudainatov, who is not sanctioned. Millemarin filed an appeal of the court's decision and obtained a stay while hearings continued.
On Friday, Fiji's Court of Appeal dismissed Millemarin's case, handing a small victory to the U.S. government. Millemarin plans to take the case to Fiji's Supreme Court, so the courtroom drama may not yet be over. The Court of Appeal gave Millemarin one week to complete next steps for an appeal.
Millemarin's claim that Khudainatov is the true owner faces skepticism. U.S. officials claim that Khudainatov is not known to possess the financial wherewithall to purchase and support a luxury vessel of this size. Even if the carrying cost of Amadea were within his means, Khudainatov is also responsible on paper for the ownership for the megayacht Scheherazade, a far larger vessel which has been seized on suspicion of connections to Putin himself. In a warrant for Amadea's arrest, an American official called Khudainatov "a second-tier oligarch (at best) who would not have anywhere near the resources to purchase and maintain more than $1 billion worth of luxury yachts."
In the meantime, the Amadea's crew has refused to operate the vessel on behalf of U.S. authorities. In an affadavit for the case, British national Capt. John Walsh said that even though the shipowners' assets were frozen and could not be used for payroll, the crew carried on providing watchkeeping and emergency responsibilities. They have no intention of performing this work under new management for the U.S. government, fearing for the damage it would cause to their reputation in the world of yacht crewing, where loyalty and discretion are highly valued.