The United States has won the latest round of a legal battle to seize a $A456-million Russian-owned superyacht in Fiji, with the case now appearing headed for the Pacific nation's top court.
Fiji's Court of Appeal dismissed an appeal by Feizal Haniff, who represents the company that legally owns the superyacht Amadea. Haniff had argued the US had no jurisdiction under Fiji's mutual assistance laws to seize the vessel, at least until a court sorted out who really owned the Amadea.
Haniff said he now plans to take the case to Fiji's Supreme Court and will apply for a court order to stop US agents sailing the Amadea from Fiji before the appeal is heard.
The US argues that its investigation has found that behind various fronts, the Cayman Islands-flagged luxury yacht is really owned by the sanctioned Russian oligarch Suleiman Kerimov, an economist and former Russian politician.
Kerimov made a fortune investing in Russian gold producer Polyus, with Forbes magazine putting his net worth at $16 billion. The US first sanctioned him in 2018 after he'd been detained in France and accused of money laundering there, sometimes arriving with suitcases stuffed with 20 million euros.
The FBI linked the Amadea to the Kerimov family through their alleged use of code names while aboard and the purchase of items like a pizza oven and a spa bed. The ship became a target of Task Force KleptoCapture, launched in March to seize Russian oligarchs' assets to pressure Russia to end the war.
The 106-metre vessel, about the length of a football field, features a live lobster tank, a hand-painted piano, a swimming pool and and a large helipad.
Haniff, who represents paper owner Millemarin Investments, argues the owner is another wealthy Russian who doesn't face sanctions, Eduard Khudainatov. He's the former chairman and chief executive of Rosneft, the state-controlled Russian oil and gas company.
The US acknowledges that paperwork appears to show Khudainatov is the owner but say he's also the paper owner of a second and even larger superyacht, the Scheherazade, which has been linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin. The US questions whether Khudainatov could really afford two superyachts worth a total of more than $1 billion.
"The fact that Khudainatov is being held out as the owner of two of the largest superyachts on record, both linked to sanctioned individuals, suggests that Khudainatov is being used as a clean, unsanctioned straw owner to conceal the true beneficial owners," the FBI wrote in a court affidavit.
The yacht remains berthed at Lautoka harbour in the heart of Fiji's sugar cane region.
Australian Associated Press
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