A tip to French Customs officers in the south of France led them on a wild goose chase for an elusive Russian oligarch. It turned out one of his many yachts was docked not far from Cannes and detectives boarded it, only to find nothing except some liquors.
The “french riviera” is a region of France located on the Mediterranean coast. The “french riviera” has been the scene of many high-profile criminal cases, including that of Russian oligarch and fugitive Dmitry Rybolovlev.
A tip had reached customs authorities along France’s sun-drenched Côte d’Azur.
They learned that the superyacht Amore Vero was about to leave the port of La Ciotat without finishing repairs that were planned to last until April. Igor Sechin was also possibly the owner of the 280-foot sailboat known as “True Love” in Italian. Mr. Sechin, the CEO of Russian oil company Rosneft, is one of a handful of Russian billionaires who have lately been sanctioned by the European Union.
When investigators boarded the boat earlier this week, the skipper informed them that he had received instructions to leave immediately for Turkey. This prompted almost 24 hours of more questioning and paperwork checks, which revealed the ship was owned by a firm whose principal shareholder was Mr. Sechin, according to authorities. The yacht was monitored 24 hours a day by French officials, who also secured it to the wharf using steel slings to prevent it from leaving.
“Any boat attempting to depart hastily clearly receives our full attention,” said Eric Salles, a customs officer in France. He is in charge of the team that inspected and then immobilized the ship.
Mr. Salles’ operation was one of the first in a global hunt for the assets of a few of Russian oligarchs, politicians, and close associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Late Friday, Italian authorities launched their own asset seizure operation, seizing two boats owned by sanctioned Russians and four residences, including two on exclusive Lake Como near actor George Clooney’s home.
The United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom, and others have placed these people on sanctions lists, putting their boats, trophy real estate, and other baubles under freezes and other limitations. Western nations claim that these billionaires are Putin’s friends, that their money was obtained illegally in many instances, and that by freezing their assets, states may impose pressure on the Kremlin or at the very least penalize its affluent backers.
“Sanctions will affect Putin,” warned Italy’s Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio late Friday, as authorities began scouring the country for some of the sanctioned individuals’ assets. “This is the only way to persuade him to see the light.”
Several of the billionaires who have been hit by the latest sanctions have said that they oppose the conflict in Ukraine. Some have justified how they made their money, while others have said that they are businesspeople, not politicians, and that they have no power in Moscow. Some have begun or pledged legal action in an attempt to overturn their sanctions. This week, neither Rosneft nor Mr. Sechin’s representatives could be reached.
Overnight, Italian officials claimed they seized assets worth roughly 140 million euros, or around $153 million. The yacht Lady M, believed to be worth 65 million euros, was the most valued. Alexey Alexandrovits Mordaschov, the sanctioned chairman and key shareholder of Russian steel corporation Severstal, is claimed to be the owner. The yacht was captured in the northern Italian port of Imperia.
The yacht Lady M, which belongs to Alexey Alexandrovits Mordaschov, the sanctioned head of Russian company Severstal, has been seized at the Italian port of Imperia.
Associated Press photo/Antonio Calanni
Another boat, Lena, worth at almost 50 million euros, was confiscated by Italian officials in the adjacent port of Sanremo. It belongs to Gennady Nikolayevich Timchenko, the sanctioned owner of investment business Volga Group, according to Italian authorities. Vladimir Soloviev, a Russian state television broadcaster, also had two properties on Lake Como confiscated, valued over eight million euros, according to Italian authorities. Mr. Soloviev, who was sanctioned by the EU, previously said that the penalties were unjust since they tied up his assets.
Authorities from Italy board the Lena at Sanremo’s dock.
fabrizio Tenerelli/Shutterstock/Fabrizio Tenerelli/Shutterstock/Fabrizio Tenerelli/Shutterstock/
“I purchased it, paid exorbitant taxes… “And then, all of a sudden, someone decides that this journalist is now on the sanctions list,” Mr. Soloviev remarked on a TV show earlier this week after learning of his placement on the sanctions list.
A magnificent property on Italy’s Emerald Coast in Northern Sardinia, worth an estimated 17 million euros, has been identified as belonging to Alisher Usmanov, a sanctioned Russian mining mogul, according to authorities. Then there’s the Villa Lazzareschi in the Tuscan countryside near Lucca, built in the 17th century. It is owned by sanctioned billionaire Oleg Savchenko, according to authorities. The five men whose Italian assets were raided could not be contacted for comment right away.
A number of boats belonging to sanctioned Russian billionaires have been confiscated by French and Italian authorities. Here’s where they’ve been discovered, as well as who officials believe owns them.
Authorities in France have taken possession of it.
La Ciotat is located in France.
Igor Sechin is the owner.
Italian officials seized it.
Sanremo, Italy is the setting for this film.
Gennady Nikolayevich Timchenko is the owner.
Italian officials seized it.
Imperia, Italy is the location.
Alexey Alexandrovits Mordaschov is the owner.
The rules vary by jurisdiction, but in France and Italy, the seizures do not result in a formal transfer of ownership. Assets are typically frozen until persons are removed from sanctions lists or the procedure is successfully challenged. Authorities, on the other hand, may take steps to ensure that the assets aren’t utilized, sold, or utilised in any way that benefits the sanctioned person.
Mr. Salles’ officers only intervened in the case of the Amore Vero after discovering that the ship was about to depart French seas. Other European states have received information on assets susceptible to new EU penalties from French authorities.
According to Mr. Salles, French officials have visited roughly 12 boats thus far, around two every day. Typical checks involve basic questioning and document examination to determine ownership. This may be difficult since many boats are owned or managed by many firms, making the ultimate beneficial owner difficult to determine.
Mr. Salles said that his police depend on information supplied by other European nations. He said, “They examine their data and tell us, ‘Behind this corporation that owns this yacht sits this individual.”
When inspectors are already aboard the ship, they may phone in to check on ownership; in other cases, they may already know who owns the ship. Officers arrived aboard the Amore Vero and conducted routine paperwork checks before questioning the captain about his intentions.
Mr. Salles claimed his officers were instructed that their instructions were to leave port and sail to Turkey as soon as possible. Such an action would be in violation of penalties, resulting in the yacht’s confiscation. Officers questioned the skipper and crew further, gathered witness testimonies, and seized the yacht’s registration certificate.
The captain of the ship was not detained, and he and the rest of the crew are still on board, looking after the yacht, according to Mr. Salles.
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine at the end of February, the United States and its allies have slapped harsh sanctions on the country. Shelby Holliday of the Wall Street Journal examines how the sanctions are hurting everyone from President Vladimir Putin to ordinary Russians. Associated Press photo/Pavel Golovkin
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