Fiji and Ukraine: what's the link?
Answer: Amadea - super-yacht
A few weeks ago, the 106-metre Amadea sailed into Lautoka, Fiji at the end of an 18-day voyage from Mexico. The vessel docked despite having no customs clearance. If you've read Death Beyond the Limit: Fiji Islands Mysteries 3, you'll know that Fiji's port authorities would have boarded the yacht and no one would have been permitted to leave until the necessary clearances were granted. But of course, Amadea had been expected.
While Fiji and the US are friendly, Fiji guards its independence in foreign policy. The United States sent a formal request to Fiji to prevent the vessel from leaving Fiji waters. Under the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Act 1997, the Fijian public prosecutor was able to ask the Fiji High Court to register a US warrant to seize Amadea. The High Court agreed to do so and granted a restraining order on the vessel, preventing it from leaving Fiji.
Unsurprisingly, Amadea's owners appealed this decision and applied to delay the seizure by the US until a ruling on the appeal. However, a stay of execution was denied and last week the FBI, US Marshalls and Fiji authorities boarded Amadea and took control of the vessel, her British captain and her 20-strong crew.
What about Ukraine?
Amadea's registered owner is a Cayman Islands company but Russian oligarch Sulieman Kerimov is believed to be the true owner. In March, the Biden administration announced a new task force, dubbed KleptoCapture, to enforce sweeping U.S. and allied sanctions sanctions on Russian oligarchs close to President Putin in response to Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. Super-yachts owned by oligarchs have hastily departed Europe and the US, seeking ports without extradition treaties with the US.
The FBI stated Mr Kerimov, who has made a fortune as part-owner of major Russian energy and financial companies, is also an official of the Russian government and a member of the Russian Federation Council. The FBI claimed that Fiji authorities had found documents on the Amadea showing breaches of US law because Mr Kerimov was sanctioned by the United States in 2018. The grounds then were that he was among a group of Russian oligarchs "who profit from the Russian government through corruption and its malign activity around the globe, including the occupation of Crimea."
It is expected Amadea will soon depart from Fiji for the US under the control of US Marshalls.
Of course, the US doesn't want to own a fleet of super-yachts. The broader aim is that aggrieved oligarchs will put pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin to negotiate a peace with Ukraine. But a lot could go wrong. Experts warn governments seizing assets from Russian oligarchs can expect ensuing legal battles to be both lengthy and costly.
Bernadette (B.M. Allsopp)