US wins case in Fiji to seize Russian superyacht, sails away

WELLINGTON (New Zealand) -- On Tuesday, the United States won a legal battle to seize a Russian superyacht in Fiji.

US wins case in Fiji to seize Russian superyacht, sails away

WELLINGTON (New Zealand) -- On Tuesday, the United States won a legal battle to seize a Russian superyacht in Fiji. They quickly took control of the vessel worth $325 million and sailed it away from South Pacific nation.

As it faces obstacles in trying to seize assets from Russian oligarchs around world, the court ruling was a major victory for the U.S. These efforts are welcome by many, but some actions have proven to be beyond the scope of American jurisdiction.

Fiji's Supreme Court overturned a stay order that had stopped the U.S. capturing the superyacht Amadea.

Chief Justice Kamal Kumar stated that, based on the evidence presented, there were very few chances for defense lawyers to appeal to the highest court.

Kumar acknowledged that he understood arguments that the superyacht was being kept at Lautoka harbor in Fiji "costing the Fijian government dearly."

The judge ruled that "the fact that U.S. authorities have agreed to pay the costs incurred by Fijian government" was irrelevant. He stated that the Amadea "sailed into Fiji without any permit" and was most likely to avoid prosecution by the United States of America.

The U.S. took the motorized vessel out of service within an hour or so of the court's decision, likely to protect the yacht from any legal action.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Justice Department did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

The Justice Department released a statement in May stating that the Amadea was being held in Fiji. However, lawyers appealed and the Justice Department retracted the statement.

It was not immediately clear where the U.S. wanted to take the Amadea. The FBI has connected the FBI to the Russian oligarch Suleiman Kirimov.

Christopher Pryde, Fiji's Director of Public Prosecutions, stated that unresolved issues of money laundering or ownership of Amadea must be resolved in the U.S.

Pryde stated that the decision acknowledged Fiji's commitment in respecting international mutual aid requests and Fiji’s international obligations.

According to court documents, the FBI has linked the Amadea with the Kerimov family by their alleged use code names while aboard and purchase of items like a spa bed and a pizza oven. Task Force KleptoCapture was launched in March to seize assets from Russian oligarchs and make Russia stop the war.

The vessel measures 106 meters (348 feet) in length and is approximately the same length as a football field. It has a live lobster tank, an hand-painted piano, swimming pool, and a large helicopter pad.

Feizal Haniff represented Millemarin Investments paper owner and argued that the owner was another rich Russian who, unlike Kerimov does not face sanctions.

Although the U.S. admitted that Eduard Khudainatov appeared to be the owner, he also claimed he was the paper owner of another superyacht, The Scheherazade. This superyacht has been linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The U.S. asked Khudainatov if he could afford two superyachts that were worth more than $1 million.

In a court affidavit, the FBI stated that Khudainatov was being held out to be the owner of two superyachts that are the largest in the world, and both linked to sanctioned people, suggesting that Khudainatov may be being used to hide the true beneficial owners.

According to court documents, the Amadea ceased its transponder shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine. It then sailed from Caribbean through Panama Canal to Mexico with more than $100,000 in cash. The Amadea then traveled thousands of kilometers (kilometers) across Pacific Ocean to Fiji.

The Justice Department claimed it did not believe the paperwork that indicated the Amadea was headed for the Philippines. Instead, it claimed it was destined for Vladivostok and other parts of Russia.

According to the department, a text message sent by a crew member saying "We're no going to Russia" was found on the phone of a crew member. It was followed by an "emoji shush".

According to the U.S., Kerimov purchased the Cayman Island-flagged Amadea through several shell companies last year. According to the FBI, emails proving Kerimov's children were on board the ship this year were found by a search warrant executed in Fiji. The crew used code names such as G0 for Kerimov and G1 for his wife and G2 for his child.

Kerimov made a fortune by investing in Russian producer Polyus of gold. Forbes magazine estimated his net worth to be $14.5 billion. After he was arrested in France for money laundering, the U.S. sanctioned him for the first time in 2018. He sometimes arrived in suitcases filled with 20 million euros.

Khudainatov was the former chairman and chief executive at Rosneft (the state-controlled Russian oil company and gas company).

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