Superyacht linked to Putin seized in Italy

A superyacht worth an estimated £570m with alleged ties to Russian president Vladimir Putin has been seized. This is part of the European Union’s ongoing sanctions against Russia, according to a statement from Italy’s Economy Ministry.

The vessel, registered in the Cayman Islands and undergoing refit in Tuscany, was impounded on Friday (6May22).

Scheherazade has ‘significant economic and business links’ with ‘prominent elements of the Russian government,’ the Italian ministry says, without specifically naming Putin in its statement.

According to Politico, Italian police originally boarded the superyacht in March. At that time, local Italian media linked the boat to Eduard Khudainatov, the former president of Rosneft, the Russian state energy giant.

Scheherazade has been undergoing repairs in the port of Marina di Carrara since last September. Recent activity at the dockside suggested that the crew were preparing to put the yacht to sea, as calls grew for it to be included in the sanctions.

US officials have previously told the New York Times that the vessel could belong to Putin, though there has been no official confirmation of this.

Supporters of the imprisoned Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny also believe that the vessel belongs to the Russian president, says The Independent. In a report released in March, an organisation set up by Navalny said it had evidence that the boat belonged to Putin, as several crew members were drawn from Russia’s Federal Protective Service (FSO), which is tasked with protecting the president (see video below).

The yacht has been the subject of an investigation by the Italian financial police since the end of March. Around this time, as more and more attention was drawn to the vessel, its Russian crew left in the middle of the night, replaced by an all-British team, says the Metro.

The ship’s British captain, Guy Bennett-Pearce, denied that Putin had ever owned or set foot on the Scheherezade. “I have never seen him. I have never met him,” he told the the New York Times in March.

Days later, Bennett-Pearce said he had been left with “no choice” but to reveal the owner’s identity to the Italian police, adding: “I have no doubt in my mind whatsoever that this will clear the vessel of all negative rumours and speculations.”

Officials say they have struggled to identify the real owner of the boat. It was built by the German firm Lürssen. The yacht was delivered to its owner in 2020 and can host up to 18 guests and 40 crew, Reuters reports.

A statement from the Italian Financial Police reads: ‘After verification by the fiscal authorities it has come to light that there is a significant economic connection between the owner of the Scheherazade and senior elements of the Russian government.

‘On the basis of these elements it has been recommended that the yacht be placed on the current European Union sanctions list and the Minister of Finance in Rome has agreed.’

A Metro source says: “Officers boarded the vessel late on Friday and told the captain and the crew were not to leave pending further investigations by the Italian authorities.

“I personally was not there but I did hear back from some of the squad who commented on the level of luxury onboard – they said it was exceptionally well furnished with beautiful artwork and interior decor of the finest quality.”

The Italian state will have to pay for the upkeep of the yacht whilst investigations are ongoing.

The Agenzia del Demanio, the Italian state property agency, will be responsible for ordinary maintenance work, custody and management fees, lawyer Tommaso Bertucelli told Il Tirreno newspaper.

“It will be the Agenzia del Demanio who will pay, including for the the crew which remains on board,” says Bertucelli.

The arrangement is standard practice for assets seized from Russian oligarchs in the wake of the war in Ukraine.

One Twitter commentator has suggested that “They should arm the yacht with missiles and give it to the Ukrainian Navy. Imagine how painful it would be for Putin’s admirals to have the choice of letting their battleship sink or sinking Putin’s old yacht.” Others have mooted using the boat – with its reported six decks, gold plated toilet roll holders, marble bathroom fittings and two helicopter pads – to house Ukranian refugees.

Watch supporters of the imprisoned Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny explore ownership of the yacht. Skip forward to three minutes.

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