The Justice Department officially moved Monday to claim a 348-foot superyacht it says belongs to a sanctioned billionaire oligarch known as the “Russian Gatsby.”
In a civil forfeiture claim filed in federal court in New York, U.S. Attorney Damian Williams’ office said that the $300 million vessel, the Amadea, is “beneficially owned” by Suleiman Kerimov and that the “superyacht was improved and maintained in violation of applicable sanctions against Kerimov and those acting on his behalf.”
The filing contends the yacht, which has a helipad, an infinity pool, a Jacuzzi and multiple bars, should be forfeited to the U.S. government.
The U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned Kerimov, who’s worth an estimated $14 billion and has ties to the Russian government, over alleged money laundering in 2018.
The superyacht Amadea in Coronado, Calif, on June 27, 2022.Gregory Bull / AP file
He has been referred to as a “Russian Gatsby” in part because he rarely does interviews while indulging in the high life. He has hosted multimillion-dollar parties at his villas on the French Riviera, including one in 2008 that reportedly featured a performance by Beyoncé, and his car collection includes a rare Ferrari Enzo, which he once crashed into a tree in 2006.
The yacht was seized in Fiji last year as part of the work of the Justice Department’s Task Force KleptoCapture, which has been going after the assets of sanctioned oligarchs in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year.
The court filing said officials were able to prove Kerimov’s ownership by showing that he was responsible for numerous upgrades to the vessel, including a new pizza oven.
However, another oligarch, Eduard Khudainatov, maintains that he’s the owner of the Amadea and has filed legal challenges for its return. Khudainatov is the former chairman and CEO of Rosneft, the state-controlled gas company in Russia, and he has not been sanctioned by the U.S. government.
The Justice Department has said in court filings that Khudainatov is a “straw owner” and that he couldn’t even afford the upkeep on the Amadea and another superyacht he says he owns.
Khudainatov’s lawyer, Adam Ford, sued in federal court in California seeking the yacht’s return late Sunday, before the federal action Monday. The filing says the government’s estimate of his client’s wealth is based in part on his failure to show up on Forbes’ annual billionaires list, and it contends “a magazine’s list should not be the basis of, or suffice as evidence for, any U.S. government enforcement action.”
Ford said in a statement, “We are confident that a neutral arbiter will order the return of the Amadea to our client.”
The U.S. has worked with numerous countries to seize a number of superyachts with ties to oligarchs, whose ownership interests are often hard to prove.
Task Force KleptoCapture co-director Michael Khoo said in a statement that the forfeiture proceeding against the Amadea came “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.”
“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,” Khoo said.