France and Germany detain Russian oligarch superyachts

France and Germany are detaining superyachts in their ports belonging to close associates of Russian president Vladimir Putin as western governments start enforcing sanctions against the country’s businesses and billionaires following the invasion of Ukraine.

The EU, along with the UK, the US and other allies, is targeting oligarchs’ assets including luxury homes and cars as part of a sanctions package of financial, commercial, cultural and sporting sanctions against Russia. Some 510 people and entities are on the EU sanctions list, according to France’s finance ministry.

The French finance ministry announced on Thursday that the $116mn superyacht Amore Vero belonging to a company of which Igor Sechin — the boss of Russian oil group Rosneft — had been identified as the main shareholder had been held in the Mediterranean port of La Ciotat.

Rosneft did not immediately provide a comment in response to a request from the Financial Times about Sechin.

Germany has meanwhile detained the world’s biggest superyacht — the $600mn, 156-metre vessel Dilbar — belonging to billionaire Alisher Usmanov as it underwent a refit at a yard in Hamburg, according to Forbes. With a gross tonnage of 16,000, the yacht features helipads, a large swimming pool and a gym.

The Der Spiegel newspaper, citing the city’s economics senator, reported that the yacht had been banned from leaving the port.

Responding to a query from the FT, a spokesperson for the Hamburg economics authority, which is the senator’s office, declined to confirm or deny Der Spiegel’s report, saying only: “[Yachts] may not leave the port if they are not allowed to.”

Usmanov’s spokesman declined to comment.

The German government also chose not to comment. Blohm+Voss, the yard, said only that the contracts it was working on “are treated in accordance with the applicable laws and regulations”.

Sechin and Usmanov were among the Russian oligarchs targeted by EU sanctions following the Russian assault on Ukraine.

Sechin was described by the EU as one of Putin’s “most trusted and closest advisers, as well as his personal friend” who received financial gains and “important assignments in return for subordination and loyalty”. 

Igor Sechin, left, has been described by the EU as one of the Russian president’s ‘most trusted and closest advisers’ as well as his personal friend © Alexei Nikolsky/Sputnik/Pool/EPA-EFE

As for the Uzbekistan-born Usmanov, once Russia’s richest man, the EU said he was among Putin’s “favourite oligarchs”. He controls Russia’s second-largest phone network, MegaFon, and metals giant Metalloinvest, and used to be one of the biggest investors in Facebook.

The 2,800-gross tonnage motor yacht linked to Sechin was detained overnight on Wednesday by customs at La Ciotat, on the Mediterranean coast between Marseille and Toulon, where it arrived for repairs on January 3. France said the 86-metre yacht was supposed to stay until April 1 but was being “prepared for an urgent departure without the work being finished”. 

The French finance ministry said the attempt to have it leave French waters was a breach of European sanctions.

Superyacht Dilbar
The 156-metre Dilbar, which features helipads, a large swimming pool and a gym, is the world’s biggest superyacht © Sabri Kesen/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

French finance ministry officials say they are working with their German counterparts to track down oligarchs’ assets, which are often held by front companies. Initially the assets will be frozen, but the authorities are seeking to establish a legal framework so that they can be permanently confiscated under the sanctions regime.

Spain, another EU member, has yet to announce the impounding of any yachts. But authorities have begun to ask the country’s ports and shipyards for information about Russian owned or flagged vessels.

The MB92 shipyard in Barcelona, which has the same owners as La Ciotat and focuses on superyachts, is currently host to at least four vessels connected to Russian oligarchs.

Michael Howorth, a superyacht expert who writes for specialist publications on the sector, said more than 100 of the 1,300 yachts over 24 metres long listed by the website were ultimately Russian owned, although opaque ownership structures made it hard to establish a precise number.

Many superyachts tend to cruise in the Mediterranean in the summer before moving to the Caribbean or Indian Ocean destinations such as the Maldives for the northern hemisphere winter, which means that easiest targets in Europe in February are vessels undergoing maintenance or repairs.

Last week, France stopped a Russian cargo vessel bound for St Petersburg and diverted it to the Channel port of Boulogne on the grounds that the owners of the ship or the cars it was carrying were suspected of being among the targets of EU sanctions. Three other cargo ships have also since been detained, according to the French finance ministry.

Additional reporting by Leila Abboud and Daniel Dombey in Madrid

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