US seizes $325m Russian superyacht Amadea in Fiji after court battle

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File: The superyacht Amadea (AP)
File: The superyacht Amadea (AP)

The US has seized a $325m (£258.8m) Russian-owned superyacht in Fiji on Tuesday after winning a legal battle.

In Fiji, the nation’s Supreme Court lifted a stay order which had prevented the US from seizing the superyacht Amadea.

In court documents, the FBI had linked the Amadea to the family of sanctioned oligarch Suleyman Kerimov through their alleged use of code names while aboard and the purchase of items such as a pizza oven and a spa bed.

The ship became a target of Task Force KleptoCapture, launched in March to seize the assets of Russian oligarchs to put pressure on Russia to end the war in Ukraine.

The 348-foot long vessel features a live lobster tank, a hand-painted piano, a swimming pool and a large helipad.

Lawyer Feizal Haniff, who represented paper owner Millemarin Investments, had argued the owner was another wealthy Russian who doesn’t face sanctions like Kerimov.

The US had argued Eduard Khudainatov was the owner but said he was also the paper owner of a second, larger superyacht, the Scheherazade, which has been linked to Vladimir Putin.

The 348-foot long vessel features a live lobster tank, a hand-painted piano, a swimming pool and a large helipad (AP)
The 348-foot long vessel features a live lobster tank, a hand-painted piano, a swimming pool and a large helipad (AP)

They questioned whether Khudainatov could really afford two superyachts worth a total of more than $1 billion.

“The fact that Khudainatov is being held out as the owner of two of the largest superyachts on record, both linked to sanctioned individuals, suggests that Khudainatov is being used as a clean, unsanctioned straw owner to conceal the true beneficial owners,” the FBI wrote in a court affidavit.

They claimed Kerimov, who was first sanctioned by the US in 2018, secretly bought the Cayman Island-flagged Amadea last year through various shell companies.

On Tuesday, Fiji’s Chief Justice Kamal Kumar ruled that based on the evidence, the chances of defence lawyers mounting an appeal over the status of the superyacht that the top court would hear were “nil to very slim."

Kumar said he accepted arguments that keeping the superyacht berthed in Fiji at Lautoka harbour was "costing the Fijian government dearly."

The U.S. removed the vessel within hours of the court’s ruling.

Anthony Coley, a spokesman for the US Justice Department, said on Twitter that the superyacht had set sail for the US under a new flag, and that American authorities were grateful to police and prosecutors in Fiji “whose perseverance and dedication to the rule of law made this action possible.”

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