A Fiji court has ruled a Russian-owned superyacht be removed by the United States amid legal wrangling over its seizure.
The US Justice Department’s Taskforce KleptoCapture has focused on seizing yachts and other luxury assets of Russian oligarchs in a bid to pressure Russian President Vladimir Putin over the war in Ukraine.
The 106-metre Amadea arrived in Fiji on April 13, after an 18-day voyage from Mexico. It was seized by Fiji authorities after the country’s High Court granted a US warrant that linked the yacht to sanctioned Russian oligarch Suleiman Kerimov.
The FBI has said the $300 million luxury vessel had running costs of $25 million to $30 million per year, and the US would pay to maintain the vessel after it was seized.
However, the Fiji government has been footing the bill while an appeal by the vessel’s registered owner, Millemarin Investments, worked its way through Fiji’s courts.
The Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that public interest demands the yacht “sail out of Fiji waters”, because having it berthed in Fiji was “costing the Fijian Government dearly”, according to the judgement.
The vessel “sailed into Fiji waters without any permit and most probably to evade prosecution by the United States,” it added.
The US alleges Kerimov owns the Amadea, although lawyers for the vessel have denied this and told the court it was owned by another Russian oligarch, Eduard Khudainatov, the former chief of Russian energy giant Rosneft, who has not been sanctioned.
“The decision acknowledges Fiji’s commitment to respecting international mutual assistance requests and Fiji’s international obligations,” said Fiji’s Director of Public Prosecutions, Christopher Pryde in a statement.
He said the court agreed “issues concerning money laundering and ownership” need to be decided in the originating US court.
“The Amadea has been handed over to US authorities and will now leave Fiji,” he added.