US govt seizes oligarch's superyacht anchored in Fiji

The United States Government is now in control of the $300 million superyacht belonging to sanctioned Russian Oligarch Suleiman Kerimov.

According to an overnight statement from the US Department of Justice (DOJ), Fijian police seized the 106m vessel yesterday at the request of American authorities.

"Fijian law enforcement, with the support and assistance of the FBI, acted pursuant to a mutual legal assistance request from the US Department of Justice following issuance of a seizure warrant from the US District Court for the District of Columbia, which found that the Amadea is subject to forfeiture based on probable cause of violations of US law, including the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), money laundering and conspiracy," the DOJ said.

On Thursday, Fijian Police with US law enforcement who have been in the country since the Amadea arrived in Fiji from Mexico, boarded the yacht.

"The US Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control 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, including the occupation of Crimea," the DOJ statement said.

"According to court documents, Kerimov owned the Amadea after his designation. Additionally, Kerimov and those acting on his behalf and for his benefit caused US dollar transactions to be routed through US financial institutions for the support and maintenance of the Amadea."

Legal attempt to keep Amadea in Lautoka

An application by Fijian lawyers acting on behalf of Millemarin Investment Ltd, the vessel's registered owners, to keep the Amadea in the Fijian port of Lautoka where it has been docked since April 12 after arriving from Mexico, will be heard in the High Court in Suva on Friday.

On Tuesday, Justice Deepthi Amaratunga granted an application by Fiji's Director of Public Prosecution to enforce the US warrant to seize the Amadea but also gave the defence counsel Faizal Hanif time to apply for a stay order.

Hanif sought to keep the yacht in Fiji for 30 days while it appeals the High Court's ruling.

US authorities have sought to seize the personal luxury assets of oligarchs since Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February.

The Fijian government has publicly denounced the Russian invasion and announced its support of the United States' seizure of the "assets of criminals who enable the Russian regime".

US will be 'persistent'

Officials from the US Coast Guard and the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) were part of the seizure in Lautoka. FBI Director Christopher Wray said the US would be persistent.

"This seizure demonstrates the FBI's persistence in pursuing sanctioned Russian oligarchs attempting to evade accountability for their role in jeopardising our national security," Wray said.

"The FBI, along with our international partners, will continue to seek out those individuals who contribute to the advancement of Russia's malign activities and ensure they are brought to justice, regardless of where, or how, they attempt to hide."

Organised under the Task Force KleptoCapture, the seizure of Amadea is part of enhanced US government global efforts announced late last month by US President Joe Biden to seize and use Russian owned assets to support the Ukraine defence.

US government officials have said it use every means of enforcing the sanctions and that close associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin would not be able to escape its reach "not even in the remotest part of the world".

"We're going to seize their yachts, their luxury homes, and other ill-begotten gains," President Biden said.