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Superyacht of the oligarchs: why is it so difficult to seize Russian assets in the West

The legal battle over who exactly owns the luxury superyacht has become emblematic of the difficulties the West has faced in seizing Russian assets since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine.

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The BBC’s investigation into the £54 million (about $67 million) Alfa Nero yacht led them to a British company whose legal assistance allows the Russian oligarch to claim that such mega-assets do not really belong to him.

This week, the trial resumed on the island of Antigua (the state of Antigua and Barbuda in the Lesser Antilles of the Caribbean), launched by the daughter of Russian billionaire Andrei Guryev to challenge the seizure of the superyacht Alfa Nero .

The island nation’s government wants to sell the vessel and keep the proceeds, for which it changed the law last June before putting the yacht up for auction.

The yacht was ultimately purchased by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt for $67 million, but he has now withdrawn his offer amid a wave of lawsuits, including one filed by Guryev’s daughter, who claims that it is she and not her billionaire father who is the sole adult beneficiary. of the trust that owns the yacht.

The BBC’s investigation into the complaint led to the discovery of around £500 million (around $620 million) in assets linked to the sanctioned billionaire.

The investigation also revealed how the trust structures, which have been legally run by a British company for many years, allowed Guryev to claim that at the time of the imposition of the sanctions, neither the yachts nor we found, neither the London real estate did not belong to him at all.

Connections with the Kremlin

The port manager at the exclusive Falmouth Harbor on the island of Antigua, where the Alfa Nero is docked, was eager to talk about its many features. But as soon as we asked who it belonged to, his tone changed dramatically.

“I don’t know,” he said, looking at the polished teak deck.

The Alfa Nero yacht was arrested in April. Previously, the US government had claimed it belonged to Guryev, whom it called a “known close associate” of Vladimir Putin.

According to the US Treasury Department, Guryev is part of a group of “Kremlin-linked elites” who “provide significant revenue to the Russian regime.”

He made his fortune at PhosAgro, a fertilizer company. It was established after the collapse of the Soviet Union and Guryev was one of its founders.

By the time PhosAgro was listed on the London Stock Exchange in 2011, Guryev had purchased the run-down Witanhurst estate in London’s Highgate, which he then transformed into one of the British capital’s most expensive properties, with a worth an estimated £300 million ($371 million). ).

Documents filed at Companies House in May 2023 show that the Witanhurst Estate and Alfa Nero are linked to the Guryev family through a company in Guernsey, the crown dependency of the British monarchy (Guernsey is part of the Isles Anglo-Norman and is not properly part of them). the United Kingdom).

And these aren’t the only high-value assets associated with this company’s Channel Islands address.

Luminosity is one of the largest hybrid superyachts, with its own helipad, private swimming pool and jacuzzi, and a crew of several dozen people.

Shortly after Russia began its invasion of Ukraine, Luminosity left a port in northern Italy and arrived in third-country Montenegro on March 10.

This happened the day after Guryev’s son was also subject to EU sanctions.

When government inspectors boarded it, they discovered the huge vessel was linked to the same address in Guernsey.

“Not our customer”

We found that between superyachts and properties, including a £50 million ($62 million) London penthouse, the Guryev family’s total asset portfolio could be valued at more than £500 million ($620 million), all linked to private wealth. management company Opus Private, whose modest office is located on the island of Guernsey.

On its website, the company says it helps “some of the world’s richest people manage and protect their assets.”

We have seen documents that the relationship between the company and the Guryevs goes back at least ten years. Furthermore, in Antigua, Opus Private continues to work in the interest of certain members of the billionaire’s family.

Court documents seen in Antigua show that Opus Private was involved in a lawsuit that failed to stop the Alfa Nero from being initially sold at auction.

It is important to note that it is perfectly legal to continue working with a sanctioned client, provided you obtain the appropriate government approval. At the same time, Guryev’s daughter is not subject to sanctions either from the UK, the EU or the USA.

The documents detail that ownership of the superyacht is owned by a trust over which an Antigua judge suggested Guryev still had some control.

We are aware that changes were made to the trust’s list of beneficiaries, but we have not been able to independently determine when exactly these changes were made. If this happened after the sanctions were introduced, then it would be illegal, but if it happened before then it would not be.

Guryev’s daughter and Opus Private told us that this happened before Andrei Guryev was sanctioned.

Opus Private also insisted that Guriev was not their client since he was no longer a beneficiary of the trust.

However, the company says it has informed UK and Guernsey authorities about trust assets which it says have been frozen as part of UK sanctions against Mr Guryev. The statement said it considered the assets frozen because, although Mr Guryev is not a beneficiary of the trust, he is deemed to have “control” of it under UK sanctions law.

Source: delfi

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