US Wins Legal Battle in Fiji, Allowing It to Seize $325 Mln Yacht With Contested Russian Ownership
The football-field-sized superyacht arrived in Fiji in April from Mexico. In April, the US set up a task force named KleptoCapture in March to seize yachts and other luxury assets of Russian oligarchs to pressure the Kremlin to stop its special military operation underway in Ukraine.
Fiji’s Court of Appeal ruled in favour of the US on Friday by dismissing a petition filed by Millemarin Investments Ltd, the registered owner of the superyacht Amadea, intending to stop the $325-million vessel from being seized by the inter-agency law enforcement task force KleptoCapture.
The decision paves the way for US law enforcement officials on the ground in Fiji to take the luxury yacht to any American port.
Millemarin Investments filed a petition on 18 May, challenging a high court order that allowed the US to seize the 348-foot luxury vessel. The firm urged the court not to let Amadea leave Fijian waters until the vessel's ownership is established. However, the court agreed with the public prosecutor, arguing ownership tests should be carried out within the US Justice System.
The legal battle started in mid-April following the vessel's detention by local police, claiming it entered Fijian waters without custom clearance.
Immediately, the US began proceedings to seize the asset under the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Act that extends powers to the US to search and seize assets in Fiji.
The US Justice Department authorised law enforcement officials to seize the yacht, as it believes the vessel belongs to sanctioned Russian oligarch Suleiman Kerimov.
But the document presented before the court showed that the Cayman Islands-flagged Amadea is owned by Millemarin Investments Ltd, which is linked to the real, or beneficial, owner, Eduard Khudainatov, a former chairman of Rosneft.
Khudainatov is not under US sanctions, and Fiji cannot transfer his assets to the US under the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Act.
The US acknowledges that the former Rosneft boss officially owns the yacht, but insists that he is only the front face of Kerimov to manage businesses without sanctions.
In the court affidavit, the US claimed that Kerimov converted the ownership in the name of an unsanctioned person, i.e., the former Rosneft boss, following a series of shadow transactions through shell companies.
The US also questioned the official ownership on the flimsy belief that Khudainatov's income records do not support his claim of owning two superyachts worth over $1 billion.
The US launched a special task force dubbed the Russian Elites, Proxies, and Oligarchs Task Force (REPO) on 16 March or KleptoCapture to enforce the sweeping sanctions, export restrictions, and economic countermeasures that the US has imposed, along with allies and partners, in response to Russia’s military operation in Ukraine.