Last month I told you how the Iraqi government is contending the sale of Ocean Breeze, the megayacht formerly owned by the late Saddam Hussein and which Burgess began offering for sale in December. While it appeared then that the controversy might come to a conclusion this month, no such luck: The yacht remains impounded on the Riviera.
If you’re not familiar with the back-story, the following summary may sound more like a soap-opera script than reality. The Iraqi dictator did indeed commission the 269-foot yacht, in 1981, as Qadissivat Saddam. He intended for her to be a sister of sorts to Al Mansur, a 350-foot megayacht he also owned, but he never had her delivered to Iraqi waters. Instead, she headed to Jeddah because, as popular belief goes, he wanted the Saudi royals to keep her safe in case anything ever happened to “The Victor,” which is what Al Mansur’s name translates to. (Interesting enough, something did happen to Al Mansur: She was bombed by American coalition forces in 2003 and reduced to a charred hull.) Qadissivat Saddam therefore remained in Saudi Arabia for many years, registered as Al Yamamah. At some point, perhaps within the past year, ownership transferred to King Abdullah of Jordan.
Or did it? This is the point of contention. The Iraqi government says ownership never officially transferred out of its hands even when the Saudis were holding onto the yacht and filed a motion to block the sale in late January in French court (the yacht has been sitting in Nice). The court accepted the argument, and earlier this month a judge heard both the government’s side of the story as well as that of the client who hired Burgess.
According to several news reports, court documents from the recent hearing show the client is Sudeley Limited, a Cayman Islands company partly owned by the king. Sudeley’s lawyers argued that Hussein’s family bestowed the yacht upon the Saudi royal family, who in turn granted her to King Abdullah, and therefore the sale of the yacht should be permitted to continue. The court upheld the freeze, however, stating that Sudeley failed to produce documentation proving ownership. The judge did not make a final judgment as to who owns the yacht, however; that decision is coming May 28.
So for the time being, Ocean Breeze, with her gilded ceilings, lavish accommodations for 28 guests, and 19 cabins for 35 crew, sits and waits. Will she return to the Iraqi people? Will she be granted the freedom to change hands? Who knows right now–though the one thing I am pretty sure of is that, despite most newspapers’ reports, the yacht is not equipped with a missile launcher. My sources with knowledge of both the megayacht and military sectors say that most such reports are bogus, considering that the enormous amount of room necessary to accommodate the storage and launching equipment just wouldn’t be given up by someone who wants the ultimate in luxurious floating comfort.
So, the controversy continues–as does my monitoring of developments. Stay tuned.