By Luc Cohen
NEW YORK (Reuters) – The United States on Monday requested the seizure of a $300 million superyacht it says is controlled by billionaire Russian oligarch Suleiman Kerimov, who is under U.S. sanctions.
Fijian authorities seized the 106-meter (348-foot) yacht Amadea under a U.S. order in May 2022, as Washington stepped up sanctions against people close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, to pressure Moscow to stopped its war against Ukraine.
Monday’s lawsuit, filed in federal court in Manhattan, begins a potentially lengthy legal process in which the United States would seek ownership of the yacht, which is docked in San Diego, and then likely auction it off and transfer the proceeds to Ukraine.
Kerimov and his family are worth $10.7 billion, according to Forbes magazine.
He amassed much of his wealth through a stake in Russian gold producer Polyus. Kerimov was sanctioned by the US Treasury Department in 2014 and 2018 in response to Russia’s activities in Syria and Ukraine. Those sanctions prevented Kerimov from accessing the US financial system.
Polyus was sanctioned in May 2023. The company claimed that the sanctions were unfounded.
In Monday’s complaint, the U.S. Department of Justice said Kerimov purchased Amadea in 2021 and then violated U.S. sanctions by making more than $1 million in support payments through U.S. financial institutions.
The yacht’s owners will have the opportunity to challenge that claim in court.
Kerimov could not immediately be reached for comment.
Lawyers for Millemarin Investments, a company that says it owns Amadea, told a Fiji court last year that Amadea was owned not by Kerimov but by former Rosneft boss Eduard Khudainatov, a Russian oligarch who has not been sanctioned.
Khudainatov is not named in Monday’s complaint.
U.S. prosecutors said a Sept. 14, 2021, transaction that transferred ownership of the Amadea from Millemarin to a newly formed company, Errigan Marine, was designed to make it appear that Evgeny Kochman, president of sanctioned yacht broker Imperial Yachts, was the owner. of the yacht.
Prosecutors said Kochman was, in fact, just a “front owner.”
In a statement, Imperial Yachts said it disputed the Justice Department’s allegations and that neither the company nor Kochman “engaged in any illegal acts.”
Khudainatov sued the United States in federal court in San Diego on Monday to release the yacht, according to a copy of the complaint provided by his attorney, Adam Ford. Reuters could not immediately locate the legal documents online.
“The Amadea was based on false premises driven by political motivations,” Ford said in a statement.
(Reporting by Luc Cohen in New York; editing by Jonathan Oatis)