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US says it wants forfeiture of billionaire Russian oligarch’s $300 mln superyacht

US says it wants forfeiture of billionaire Russian oligarch’s $300 mln superyacht
epa09814673 Yachts are moored up at Port Hercules in Monaco, 09 March 2022 (issued 10 March 2022). Monaco was quick to announce that it had joined the EU to sanction the list published of some 500 oligarchs to be sanctioned for having ties to Russian president Putin. "We do not belong to the EU, but we belong to the euro zone. That is why we immediately apply the bloc's guidelines," said the Principality's head of government, Pierre Dartout, in an interview with EFE. The wealthy micro-state that has been attracting Russian fortunes for decades, opened the doors to seize assets of oligarchs included in the EU list under sanctions imposed on Russia after the invasion of Ukraine. EPA-EFE/SEBASTIEN NOGIER

NEW YORK, Oct 23 (Reuters) - The United States on Monday sought the forfeiture of a $300 million superyacht it says is controlled by billionaire Russian oligarch Suleiman Kerimov, who is under U.S. sanctions.

By Luc Cohen

Authorities in Fiji seized the 348-foot (106-meter) Amadea yacht pursuant to a U.S. warrant in May 2022 as Washington ramped up sanctions enforcement against people close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, to pressure Moscow to halt its war against Ukraine.

Monday’s complaint, filed in federal court in Manhattan, kicks off a potentially long judicial process in which the United States would seek ownership of the yacht, which is docked in San Diego, and then likely auction it and transfer 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 U.S. Treasury Department in 2014 and 2018 in response to Russia’s activities in Syria and Ukraine. Those sanctions barred Kerimov from accessing the U.S. financial system.

Polyus PLZL.MM was sanctioned in May 2023. The company said the sanctions were unfounded.

In Monday’s complaint, the U.S. Department of Justice said Kerimov bought the Amadea in 2021, and then violated U.S. sanctions by making more than $1 million in maintenance payments through U.S. financial institutions.

The yacht’s owners will have the chance to contest that claim in court.

Kerimov could not immediately be reached for comment.

Lawyers for Millemarin Investments, a company that says it owns the Amadea, told a Fiji court last year that the Amadea was owned not by Kerimov but by former Rosneft chief 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 transferring ownership of the Amadea from Millemarin to a newly incorporated company, Errigan Marine, was designed to make it appear that Evgeny Kochman, the president of sanctioned yacht broker Imperial Yachts, owned the yacht.

Prosecutors said Kochman was, in fact, only a “straw owner.”

In a statement, Imperial Yachts said it disputed the DOJ’s allegations and that neither the company nor Kochman “engaged in any illegal acts.”

Khudainatov sued the United States on Monday in federal court in San Diego to release the yacht, according to a copy of the complaint provided by his lawyer, Adam Ford. Reuters could not immediately locate the legal papers online.

“The Amadea was seized upon false premises driven by political motivation,” Ford said in a statement.

(Reporting by Luc Cohen in New York; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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