Fiji & the Russian superyacht: update
Amadea - recap to 9th May
If you didn't catch my May blog, tap here: Fiji and Ukraine - what's the link? And if you haven't got time right now, this first section is a quick but oversimplified recap.
In April 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. Amadea's registered owner is Millemarin Investment, a Cayman Islands company, but Russian energy oligarch Sulieman Kerimov is believed to be the true owner. The United States claims Kerimov is a member of the Russian Federation Council and close to President Putin.
The United States sent a formal request to Fiji to hold the vessel until the US could seize it, in response to Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. The High Court agreed to do so. Amadea's owners appealed this decision. However, a stay of execution was denied and the FBI, US Marshalls and Fiji authorities boarded Amadea and took control of the vessel. expecting Amadea would soon sail to the US under the control of the US Marshalls.
But Millemarin Investment took their protest to Fiji's Court of Appeal, claiming that Kerimov did not own the superyacht. On 9th May the court granted an interim stay on the execution of the warrant, ordering Amadea to remain in Fiji under Fiji police custody until the court could make a determination. Neither the Fiji nor US governments were happy about this.
Millemarin's lawyer argued the current owner is another wealthy Russian who doesn't face sanctions, Eduard Khudainatov.
The U.S. acknowledged that paperwork supports this but said Khudainatov is also the nominal owner of a second and even larger superyacht, the Scheherazade, which has been linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin. The U.S. question 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. Millemarin's lawyer responded that the US case was based on hearsay and rumours.
On 27th May, the court dismissed Miilemarin's appeal but ordered that its judgment not take effect for seven days, presumably to give time for further appeals to be filed. Millemarin's lawyer immediately announced he would appeal to the Fiji Supreme Court.
Final twist in the tale
On 7th June, the Fiji Supreme Court ruled that the US could remove Amadea from Fiji, but for a surprising reason: Fiji could not afford to maintain the vessel during further protracted legal arguments. The FBI has said the $300 million luxury vessel had running costs of $25 million to $30 million per year, and the US would pay to maintain the vessel after it was seized. However, Fiji was footing the bill for weeks while appeals by Millemarin Investments were heard by Fiji's courts.
The GDP of the island country is $4 billion and Fiji has already spent close to $5 million to keep Amadea there. The judgement stated that the appropriate US court rule on legal arguments over ownership and money laundering. Fiji's Director of Public Prosecutions, stated, "Amadea has been handed over to US authorities and will now leave Fiji." US has offered to pay Fiji's costs to date. Let's hope this payment is not delayed!
Amadea departed Lautoka on 7th June, the date the judgement was handed down. I for one will watch what happens to her with interest as the thorny legal battles are fought in the US courts.
Bernadette (B.M. Allsopp)