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US wins order to seize Russian oligarch’s $300M yacht

Fiji’s high court allowed the Justice Department to take possession of the superyacht Amadea, which is said to be owned by a Russian oligarch tied to the Kremlin.

WASHINGTON (CN) — The Department of Justice sailed away from Fiji on Tuesday in an estimated $300 million dollar superyacht seized from a Russian oligarch after a nearly month-long legal battle overseas.

The seizure marks a win for the U.S. government and highlights the legal issues that can arise as it navigates international law in courts abroad in its bid to strip assets from Russian oligarchs tied to the Kremlin, whose deadly war in Ukraine is nearing its fifth month. 

When the 348-foot luxury ship known as the Amadea entered Fijian waters in mid-April, the Justice Department hastily sought a seizure warrant from the country’s high court, arguing the yacht belonged to sanctioned Russian oligarch Suleiman Kerimov.  

A judge granted the request, but left open the opportunity for an appeal, and that’s when a different Russian national, who is not sanctioned, challenged the ruling based on his claim that he is the actual owner of superyacht. 

But Fiji Supreme Court Chief Justice Kamal Kumar rejected that claim on Tuesday and lifted the stay order, prompting officials in the DOJ's Task Force KleptoCapture to take control of the Amadea in the port of Lautoka, Fiji, and start the more than 8,000-mile trek across the ocean to the United States.

Anthony Coley, director of public affairs for the FBI, tweeted Tuesday that the superyacht, which initially donned a Cayman Islands flag, left Fiji’s port under the American flag. 

A Justice Department official did not immediately return a request for comment sent Tuesday regarding where the ship will be docked in the U.S. 

The Amadea came under the department's radar after it began intermittently turning off its automated information system, which allows international maritime authorities to track its location, almost immediately after Russian forces began to invade Ukraine on Feb. 24. 

The DOJ claims Kerimov, who was sanctioned in 2018 after being detained by French authorities and accused of money laundering, used shell companies to secretly purchase the Amadea last year and has since used the superyacht’s annual expenses – which range between $25 to $30 million – as a way to “make unlicensed payments” in the U.S., in violation of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act. 

Attorney General Merrick Garland launched KleptoCapture in March – just days after the war began – to enforce U.S. sanctions, export controls and economic countermeasures against Putin and his operatives. 

Since then, the task force has seized Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg’s superyacht, as well as the Russia-affiliated Hydra darknet market, which is known to be the world’s largest illegal marketplace on the dark web.  

The department also sanctioned Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeyev and secured a warrant to take two airplanes, worth over $400 million, from already sanctioned Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich. 

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