SUVA/WASHINGTON (ABC) — The 106-metre luxury superyacht the Amanda — believed to belong to sanctioned Russian oligarch Sulieman Kerimov — has been seized by Fijian authorities on behalf of the United States.
The vessel has been the subject of legal proceedings since it arrived in Fiji in mid-April as the public prosecutor sought to register a US warrant for its seizure and the yacht’s owners tried to prevent the enforcement action.
But Thursday, Fijian authorities worked with members of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) as well as the U.S Marshals Service — now on the ground in Fiji — to execute a seizure warrant and freeze the Amadea.
“Fijian law enforcement, with the support and assistance of the FBI, acted pursuant to a mutual legal assistance request from the U.S Department of Justice,” the U.S Department of Justice said in a statement.
That request included a seizure warrant “which found that the Amadea is subject to forfeiture based on probable cause of violations of U.S law”, including money laundering and conspiracy.
The vessel is no longer under private control, but it’s not known when or if it will leave Fijian waters.
The curious case of the Amadea has captivated the Pacific nation of Fiji as the impacts of Russia’s war on Ukraine reach around the globe to a private wharf in the city of Lautoka on the country’s main island.
It’s there where the U.S has collected another piece of Russian treasure as part of its operation KleptoCapture — a task force charged with finding and seizing the wealth of sanctioned oligarchs with links to Moscow.
“This yacht seizure should tell every corrupt Russian oligarch that they cannot hide – not even in the remotest part of the world,” U.S Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said in a statement.
“We will use every means of enforcing the sanctions imposed in response to Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified war in Ukraine.”
On paper the Amadea belongs to an investment company based in the Cayman Islands, but Kervimov — a Russian politician and Vladimir Putin ally — is believed to be the true owner.
Kerimov has been sanctioned by the U.S for alleged money laundering since 2018, while Canada, Europe and Britain have also now moved against the billionaire’s assets.
The U.S designated Kerimov as part of a group of Russian oligarchs who “profit from the Russian Government through corruption and its malign activity around the globe”, the Department of Justice said in a statement.
“According to court documents, Kerimov owned the Amadea after his designation. Additionally, Kerimov and those acting on his behalf and for his benefit caused U.S Dollar transactions to be routed through U.S financial institutions for the support and maintenance of the Amadea.”
The superyacht is worth more than US$450 million and is considered a major haul by task force KleptoCapture.
The vessel reportedly has a live lobster tank in the galley, a 10-metre pool, a hand-painted Pleyel piano and a large helipad.
The Amadea travelled from Mexico for 18 days across the Pacific, entering Fijian waters on 13 April, but it didn’t have customs clearance.
Almost immediately, the United States sought to seize the yacht and sent a formal request for legal assistance to Fiji to prevent the vessel from leaving the Pacific nation’s waters.
The High Court granted a restraining order on the vessel, effectively preventing it from leaving Fiji until the bigger question could be answered: can the U.S take it into custody?
Seizing foreign assets involves the work of several government agencies and the cooperation of local authorities and, in the case of the Amadea, a piece of legislation called the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Act 1997.
Under this Act, the Fijian public prosecutor was able to ask the High Court for a US warrant to be registered locally because the property in question was “involved in money laundering”, according to court documents.
That means Fijian legal authorities asked for a warrant issued by a United States court to be registered in the local jurisdiction.
On Tuesday, Fijian High Court Judge Deepthi Amaratunga granted that request.
So despite the warrant being issued 12,000 kilometres away, it became enforceable in Fiji and Thursday, local authorities — together with the FBI — moved on the vessel.
The legal case surrounding the Amadea is not over.
On Tuesday, defence lawyer Feizal Haniff signalled his client would appeal the decision to allow the Amadea to be moved out of Fijian waters and asked for time to complete that process.
Today, Justice Amaratunga is expected to rule on that request.
The Amadea is a very valuable seizure and it comes as the U.S Congress is debating exactly what to do with all of Russia’s expensive toys.
One proposal is to make it easier for the government to sell them off and then send the funds raised to Ukraine’s defence effort.
Some analysts say, the difficulty there is sanctions are designed to be leverage, to encourage people to correct their behaviour, and selling off their assets would change that dynamic.
In an international legal manoeuvre similar to what has played out in Fiji, the U.S was able to seize another Russian superyacht with the help of Spanish authorities last month.
Under current laws, any eventual sell-off of the yachts would come after forfeiture proceedings because currently the U.S Government must prove the assets were used to commit a crime before it can take ownership.
In the past, that has led to lengthy lawsuits and, in some instances, the property being returned.
Experts warn the current global effort to freeze and seize the assets of Russia’s elite is of an unprecedented scale, and governments can expect the legal battles around them to be just at significant…. PACNEWS