Le Pays De France - France seizes Russian oil supremo's yacht as EU sanctions bite

Paris -
France seizes Russian oil supremo's yacht as EU sanctions bite
France seizes Russian oil supremo's yacht as EU sanctions bite

France seizes Russian oil supremo's yacht as EU sanctions bite

France said Thursday it had seized a superyacht owned by Russia's oil czar Igor Sechin, following through on threats to target sanctioned oligarchs close to Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

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The vessel, "Amore Vero", was seized at a shipyard at La Ciotat on the French Riviera, a popular summer playground for the super-rich where many tycoons moor their vessels for pleasure or maintenance.

"French customs carried out the seizure of the yacht Amore Vero in La Ciotat as part of the implementation of sanctions by the European Union against Russia," a statement for the French finance ministry said.

The 85.6-metre (280 ft) vessel was owned by a company "in which Sechin is the main shareholder", the statement added.

Sechin, seen as part of Putin's tightest inner circle and a former deputy prime minister, is chief executive of Russian oil giant Rosneft.

Forbes magazine reported that German authorities have also seized the superyacht "Dilbar" belonging to billionaire businessman Alisher Usmanov.

Rory Jackson, business editor at the Superyacht Group, said that the boats being targeted were likely in Europe because they were undergoing maintenance.

"At this point in the year, it's the end of the Caribbean season and the Mediterranean season will start in May," he told AFP. "The yachts that are in Europe in this period, they're probably having refit work done."

He said there was evidence that Russian owners were keeping their vessels in the Caribbean or moving them to places such as the Seychelles.

Authorities in the Maldives have told AFP that the "Clio" superyacht belonging to sanctioned billionaire Oleg Deripaska has anchored off its capital, along with the "Titan" vessel owned by steel magnate Alexander Abramov.

The megayacht Solaris owned by Roman Abramovich is currently shown as located in Barcelona in Spain, according to specialist ship tracking websites, and is thought to be undergoing maintenance.

Abramovich has not been sanctioned, but announced Wednesday that he was divesting from Chelsea football club in a possibly pre-emptive move.

Putin himself has been repeatedly linked to the 80-metre superyacht "Graceful", which was moved from the German port of Hamburg to the Russian enclave of Kalingrad on the Baltic Sea in early February, Marinetraffic.com data shows.

- Sanctions -

The European Union, the United States and Britain have all announced sanctions against Russian tycoons that are closely connected to Putin.

"Those who enable the invasion of Ukraine will pay a price for their action," EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Monday as he announced new measures following Russia's invasion of Ukraine last Thursday.

These included sanctions against Sechin, pipeline boss Nikolay Tokarev, bankers Mikhail Fridman and Petr Aven and others.

Paris has said it is drawing up a list of assets in France owned by oligarchs including yachts and luxury cars, with the southern Rivera coastline long being a magnet for the rich and famous.

"If I were an oligarch, in Russia or France, I'd be worried," French Foreign Minister Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Monday.

US President Joe Biden has also tasked the Department of Justice with assembling a task force to "to find and seize their yachts, their luxury apartments their private jets."

The 85.6-metre (280 ft) "Amore Vero" vessel seized by France on Thursday was made by Netherlands-based yacht builder Oceanco and includes a swimming pool that turns into a helipad.

Sechin is seen as one of Russia's most powerful men and worked with Putin since the 1990s when they both worked in the Saint Petersburg mayor's office.

- Weak spot? -

Russians have long been major buyers of superyachts -- pleasure vessels classed as being more than 30 metres long -- which are usually owned by companies registered in low-tax jurisdictions such as the Cayman Islands.

The London-based Superyacht Group estimates they make up about 10 percent of the global market.

"It's not a majority, but its a significant portion," Jackson said.

The EU sanctions are expected to badly hit the businesses of European superyacht builders concentrated in the Netherlands, Germany, Spain and Britain, as well as people who serve as crew.

But campaigners have long argued that Putin depends on the loyalty of the tight group of businessman around him, and that targeting their wealth is a way of destabilising his regime.

"So far, the lists are quite short of which oligarchs are going to be sanctioned. They need to be much longer," campaigner Bill Browder told AFP this week.

"Many oligarchs hide their money in names of family members, and so we need to go after the family members," he added.