Superyacht Force Blue Seized Over Tax Evasion Charges

Force Blue, Flavio Briatore’s megayacht, is being held over a reported case of tax evasion.

According to articles in Italian and UK newspapers, Force Blue was stopped outside of La Spezia, Italy, on Thursday. The seizure order was issued by the Guardia di Finanza of Genova, with some reports stating high-speed boats chased the 62-meter (203-foot) yacht for a few miles before the police boarded her. The video above was released by the Guardia di Finanza of the yacht being brought in, peacefully, and officers boarding her to document what was onboard.

While Briatore was not onboard at the time, according to the articles, his wife and two-month-old son were.

At issue is whether Force Blue is truly a charter yacht. She’s listed for charter for €255,000 ($320,111) per week during high season this summer for 12 guests and registered in the Cayman Islands. Genoa prosecutor Walter Cotugno is investigating how many charters have taken place and whether Force Blue is mostly a home for Briatore and his wife. Agence France Press quotes a police officer as saying, “It is certain that the only user of this yacht is Flavio Briatore.”

If the investigation reveals that the yacht is lived aboard by Briatore more than she is chartered, then the estimated VAT that will be owed is €4 million ($5 million), according to a report by the Italian newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore. This is based on the yacht’s approximate value of €20 million ($25.1 million), the same article states. Since Briatore is a citizen of the European Union, he cannot take his yacht into EU territories without paying the VAT.

UPDATE, JUNE 28: The yacht was returned to Briatore last week under the conditions that a €5- million fee be paid and that Force Blue does not depart the Mediterranean. Italian authorities are continuing to investigate the ownership of the yacht.

Also at issue is whether Briatore evaded €800,000 ($1 million)  in taxes on fuel over a two-year period.

More details to come as they are released.

UPDATE, MAY 23: Fraser Yachts released the following statement a few hours ago:

Fraser Yachts, the world’s leading luxury yacht services provider, based in Monaco, was appointed in 2005 to provide specialist management services to M/Y FORCE BLUE by the beneficial owner and oversees matters relating to the yacht’s management, charter management and charter marketing. Our immediate priority is to address this problem with the Italian authorities and to offer our client full support in order to secure the release of the yacht as quickly as possible. We are naturally providing our client with our full back up, resources and expertise to try and bring about a swift resolution to the matter.

Fraser Yachts’ team of yacht management and charter experts is in direct contact with the yacht’s Captain on a regular basis and is not aware of any contravention of the legal or financial requirements, as set out by the Italian authorities, by either the owning company, Captain or beneficial owner. The vessel is a renowned charter yacht, it is actively marketed and has been extremely popular among charter clients over the past few years with a minimum of 14 weeks of charter per year. The vessel is chartered by the beneficial owner for his own use for approximately four to six weeks per year.

As far as we are able to ascertain, this issue appears to have arisen as a result of regulations which can appear confusing and inconsistent rather than through any wrong-doing on the part of Autumn Sailing Ltd. Fraser Yachts keeps detailed records and will naturally assist the authorities with whatever documentation they require in order to bring about the release of the M/Y FORCE BLUE at the earliest possible opportunity. We will also be seeking further clarification with regard to the regulations so we can also advise our many other important clients on this matter.

UPDATE, MAY 23: Italian authorities released Force Blue within the past week, under two conditions. First, a €5-million ($6.1-million) fee was required to be paid, and second, the yacht is not permitted to leave Mediterranean waters. The authorities are continuing their investigation into the ownership of the yacht.

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