How the arrival of the Amadea superyacht wedged Fiji between a Russian oligarch and the United States government

Slapping sanctions on some of Vladimir Putin’s uber-rich friends is designed to cost them dearly, but in the case of the Amadea superyacht, it’s the small island nation of Fiji that is being forced to pay up.

The 106-meter luxury vessel arrived in Lautoka port in mid-April and has been the subject of legal proceedings, including being the asset in question on a United States seizure warrant.

Last week, it looked as if US law enforcement officials on the ground in Fiji were free to sail away with the $ 450 million superyacht, but a fresh appeal attempt was lodged and will be heard this week.

The issue for Fiji is that this very expensive vessel is also very expensive to maintain.

Right now, the vessel is in the custody of the Fijian authorities, and according to the public prosecutor, is costing the country more than $ FJD1 million ($ 655,000) a week while legal proceedings drag on.

Fiji’s Director of Public Prosecution Christopher Pryde said the current stay on the seizure of the Amadea should be lifted for a number of reasons, including the cost of “keeping the yacht” and “to Fiji’s international reputation”.

The case of the Amadea has put Fiji in a unique spot – a long way from the war in Ukraine, but wedged firmly between a sanctioned Russian billionaire and the US government.

The central question

One detail in the case of the Amadea that has been central to legal proceedings is the question of who actually owns it.

At the end of the murky trail of shell companies and trusts, which person gets to walk on board the Amadea and call it their own?

The Amadea has been in port in Lautoka since mid-April.
The Amadea has been in port in Lautoka since mid-April. (Supplied: US Department of Justice)

And the answer is not who that person is believed to be, but rather who can be proven to benefit from the ownership of the vessel in a court of law.

The US believes it has evidence that proves sanctioned Russian billionaire, politician and Putin ally Sulieman Kerimov owns the Amadea, but on paper it belongs to an investment firm.

That firm has lawyers in Fiji fighting to prevent the US Marshals Service sailing the Amadea into American territory.

At the heart of the legal matter is the US seizure warrant.

Essentially, the US government asked the Fijian government for help seizing the Amadea and so the public prosecutor requested the US seizure warrant to be registered locally, meaning it could be enforced in Fiji.

That request was granted and, together with the FBI and the US Marshals Service, Fijian law enforcement seized the yacht last week.

But then defense lawyers filed an appeal.

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