Upper house

The United States decides to seize the yacht of a major Russian oligarch linked to the Pandora Papers

Authorities in the island nation of Fiji have seized the superyacht from a sanctioned Russian oligarch and are expected to turn the vessel over to the United States, the US Department of Justice announced on Thursday.

The 348-foot yacht, called Amadea, is owned by Suleyman Kerimov, the United States said. Kerimov is a gold tycoon who made his fortune buying energy assets and large stakes in Russian banks after the fall of the Soviet Union. He is also a member of the upper house of the Russian parliament and was among a select group of powerful oligarchs summoned by Putin to Moscow the day Russia invaded Ukraine.

The ship has been in limbo since late last month, after unexpectedly sailing through Fijian waters, and being held in port by local authorities.

The announcement follows an investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists into the offshore financial empire of Kerimov and his closest associates. ICIJ reporters traced billions of dollars flowing through opaque offshore shell companies associated with Kerimov. In many cases, these secret transfers prevented bank compliance officers from trying to figure out who was behind the huge transfers.

In announcing the seizure, the Justice Department said it was acting on a forfeiture warrant issued by a federal court that found ‘probable cause’ that Kerimov had serviced the $300 million ship. by illegally transferring money through US banks. Fijian authorities, with the support and assistance of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, acted pursuant to a mutual assistance treaty, the Justice Department said.

“This yacht seizure should tell all corrupt Russian oligarchs that they cannot hide – not even in the most remote part of the world, Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco said in a press release. .

The Amadea seizure is one of the most high-profile moves for a new Justice Department-led task force to identify and seize the assets of sanctioned Russian oligarchs. The task force, known as KleptoCapture, was announced shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine in February and came with a new round of sanctions against Russian oligarchs. Kerimov was first sanctioned by the United States in 2018. Britain and the European Union followed suit this year.

Super luxury motor yacht Amadea, one of the largest in the world, is seen anchored at a pier in Bodrum district of Turkey’s Mugla province on February 18, 2020. Image: Osman Uras/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Thursday’s filing indicates that shortly after the invasion of Ukraine, the Amadea began intermittently shutting down its digital tracking system that allows remote tracking of a vessel. While the system is used by researchers and investigators to monitor ships, it is primarily designed as a way to prevent ships from colliding on the high seas.

When the Amadea arrived in Fiji in mid-April, local authorities searched the vessel and found “numerous documents detailing transactions made on behalf of AMADEA”, according to the filing. These documents detailed “Kerimov and those acting on his behalf” transferring money through US banks during the time he was under sanctions.

A lawyer for Kerimov did not respond to a request for comment before press time.

The ICIJ Kerimov report is part of Pandora Papers Russia, an effort by the ICIJ and its global partners to shed light on secret money flows linked to oligarchs and others close to the Kremlin in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The project also shed light on offshore professionals who helped oligarchs secretly buy luxury assets like yachts and jets.

The investigation showed the difficulties faced by the United States in its mission to locate and seize assets linked to Kerimov and other Russian billionaires, who have increasingly turned to opaque offshore shell companies capable of to hide assets.