Russian luxury yacht leaves Fiji, court rules

Screen capture from drone video showing a Russian yacht owned by “Amadea” docked at Queen’s Wharf in Lautoka, Fiji on May 3, 2022. Reuters TV via Reuters

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SYDNEY (Reuters) – A Fiji court has ordered the United States to remove a Russian-owned luxury yacht from the Pacific island because it was a waste of money for Fiji to keep the vessel amid legal wrangling over its confiscation.

The US Department of Justice’s KleptoCapture Task Force has focused on the confiscation of yachts and other luxury assets of Russian oligarchs in an effort to pressure Russian President Vladimir Putin over the war in Ukraine.

The 106-meter (350 ft) Amadea arrived in Fiji on April 13, after an 18-day voyage from Mexico. Fiji authorities confiscated it after the country’s Supreme Court granted a US arrest warrant last month linking the yacht to the punishable Russian oligarch Suleiman Karimov. Read more

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The FBI said the $300 million luxury ship would cost $25-30 million a year to operate and that the United States would pay to maintain the ship after it was seized.

However, the Fiji government was paying the bill while an appeal by the ship’s registered owner, Millemarin Investments, was making its way through the Fiji courts.

The Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that the public interest requires the yacht to “save from the waters of Fiji,” because mooring the yacht in Fiji “costs the Fiji government dearly,” according to the ruling.

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It added that the ship “sailed into Fiji waters without any permission, probably to avoid prosecution by the United States.”

The United States claims that Karimov beneficially owned the Amadea, although the ship’s lawyers denied this and told the court that it was owned by another Russian oligarch, Eduard Khdianatov, the former head of the Russian energy giant Rosneft, who was not subject to sanctions.

Last month, police in Italy seized another luxury yacht allegedly owned by Khdyanatov worth about $700 million. Read more

The FBI said in the arrest warrant that Amadea tried to avoid capture “almost immediately” after Russian forces entered Ukraine, turning on its automated tracking system on February 24.

The ship’s lawyer, Faisal Hanif, declined to comment on the ruling.

“The resolution recognizes Fiji’s obligation to respect mutual international assistance requests and Fiji’s international obligations,” Christopher Pride, Fiji’s Director of Public Prosecutions, said in a statement.

He said the court agreed that “cases relating to money laundering and property” should be decided in the original US court.

He added: “The ship Amadea has been handed over to the US authorities and will now leave Fiji.”

The US embassy in Suva did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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(Reporting by Kirsty Needham). Lincoln Fest Editing.

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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