The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has filed a civil forfeiture complaint against the yacht of a sanctioned Russian owner. If a judge rules in its favor, the forfeiture of the yacht Amadea will mean the United States takes ownership. Eventually, the U.S. government likely will auction her.
The filing, in federal court in New York today, alleges that improvements aboard and maintenance of the 348-footer (106.1-meter) occurred in violation of sanctions against the owner. The DOJ says that the owner is Suleiman Kerimov. He holds a major stake in Russia’s biggest gold producer and is a member of a Russian legislative body. Kerimov acquired the yacht in 2021, the DOJ adds. It further alleges that he did so through a series of shell corporations to conceal his ownership. He landed on the U.S. sanctions list initially in 2018 over allegations of money laundering. Further sanctions followed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year. Sanctions prevent an individual from using the U.S. financial system without obtaining a special license.
However, the DOJ says he and others acting on his behalf spent more than $1 million on the yacht’s maintenance through U.S. financial institutions, without a license. The DOJ also says crew emails reveal Kerimov’s children requested structural modifications take place, with meetings to discuss them subsequently. Plus, the civil forfeiture complaint asserts that Kerimov and/or his family cruised aboard the yacht multiple times between October 2021 and May 2022. It adds that they made long-term cruising plans during that same time.
“The United States brings this action today after a careful and painstaking effort to develop the necessary evidence showing Suleiman Kerimov’s clear interest in the Amadea and the repeated misuse of the U.S. financial system to support and maintain the yacht for his benefit,” says Michael Khoo, co-director of the DOJ’s Task Force KleptoCapture. “Getting to this point required extensive cooperation across the U.S. government and with foreign partners. It underscores our resolve to undertake challenging, cross-border investigations and to send a message to Russian oligarchs and their enablers: if you flout the rule of law, you can expect to pay real and meaningful consequences.”
The forfeiture of the yacht Amadea, which the DOJ values at upwards of $300 million, is not automatic. Civil forfeiture complaints are allegations that property or money were involved in a crime or represent the proceeds of one. A court must hear the DOJ’s case, along with that of the owner. The court date is not yet set. Civil forfeiture complains can take months to years to be heard.
Currently, Amadea is in San Diego, having arrived there last summer. The arrival followed international legal petitions. In fact, in May 2022, Fiji’s High Court approved a DOJ request to arrest the yacht, which had entered the country one month prior.Amadea departed Fiji under U.S. control in June 2022.
In related news, according to Reuters, another Russian has sued the United States in federal court today to secure the yacht’s release. That individual is Eduard Khudainatov, who formerly headed Russia’s state-controlled oil and gas company. He is not under sanctions, and just last year claimed to be the yacht’s ultimate beneficial owner. A Fijian court dismissed those claims, though, paving the way for the DOJ to arrest and move Amadea. A lawyer for Khudainatov tells Reuters that the yacht’s seizure results from “false premises driven by political motivation.”