Finance

Italy freezes superyacht with alleged links to Putin

Rome has moved to seize a $700mn superyacht docked in a Tuscan port pending a decision on its beneficial owner being included in the European Commission’s forthcoming package of sanctions against Russia.

Daniele Franco, Italy’s finance minister, has issued “a decree to freeze the asset pending a decision by the European Union”, the Rome government said in a statement on Friday evening.

An investigation by the Guardia di Finanza, the financial police, had revealed evidence of “significant economic and business links of the beneficial owner of the Scheherazade with prominent elements of the Russian government and other individuals subject to EU sanctions”, it went on.

The statement said Italy had proposed that the beneficial owner of the boat — who the government has not publicly named or identified — should also be formally subject to EU sanctions, as they are not currently on the sanctions list.

But with the EU still debating its next sanctions package — particularly the contentious question of whether to impose an embargo on the purchase of Russian oil — Rome moved to freeze the ship as an interim measure.

The seizure follows media reports that the 140-metre-long Scheherazade had been preparing to leave the northern Tuscan port of Marina di Carrara, where it had been undergoing repairs and maintenance for months at a shipyard owned by the Italian Sea Group.

Local residents said the superyacht’s refitting had been completed this week. The vessel boasts six deck levels, two helicopter pads, and a swimming pool among its features.

Italian authorities have been investigating the superyacht’s ownership for weeks as part of efforts to enforce EU sanctions against oligarchs linked to Russian president Vladimir Putin.

In the past, Italy has been a favoured playground for many of the wealthiest Russians, reflecting the warm ties enjoyed by the Italian political and business establishment with Putin and his circle.

But prime minister Mario Draghi has been strident in his denunciations of the invasion of Ukraine, which the Italian leader has described as an attack on the post-second world war multilateral order.

Italian authorities have been enforcing the punitive EU sanctions with energy, freezing more than €1bn worth of superyachts and seafront villas linked to oligarchs seen as being close to Putin, such as Alexei Mordashov, Petr Aven and Alisher Usmanov.

But the Scheherazade had drawn particular attention, as associates of imprisoned Russian anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny have contended that the superyacht is probably Putin’s.

As evidence of its links to the Russian president, Anti-Corruption Foundation activists pointed to a crew list, suggesting that several members of the ship’s company were members of Russia’s Federal Protection Service, which is responsible for Putin’s security.

According to documents seen by the FT, Scheherazade’s nominal owner is Beilor Asset Limited, a Marshall Islands-based company.

According to two people briefed on discussions in Rome and Brussels, Italy requested the addition of the ship’s alleged beneficial owner to the EU’s sanction list on Thursday.

According to two officials briefed by the Italian investigation, the financial police first linked the superyacht to the individual in March. In early April, investigators asked the finance ministry’s financial security committee to demand the individual be included in the sanctions.

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