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Attempt to Sell 'Amadea' Superyacht Docked in San Diego Denied by U.S Courts

The growing number of disputes involving sanctioned Russian superyachts has once again made waves in the U.S. legal system.

An ongoing disagreement with the 106 metre (348 foot) Amadea superyacht, in particular, is making headlines after a U.S. district judge denied a motion to sell the boat.

On February 9th, 2024, federal prosecutors in Manhattan files a statement asking the judge to allow an auction to take place due to the vessel's excessive carrying costs, which are estimated to be nearly $750,000 per month.

The vessel was built by Lurssen and only launched in 2021. It is one of the most advanced superyachts currently on the water and boasts luxury features like a foredeck helipad, swimming pool, wine cellar and humidor, spa and sauna rooms, and a fire pit on the owner's deck. Her exterior was designed by renowned designer Espen Oeino and her interior was crafted by Zuretti Interior Design. She carries room for 16 guests across 8 ensuite staterooms, plus room for a crew of 36.

After her launch and sea trials in late 2021 and early 2022, she was seized in May of 2022 in Fiji at the request of U.S. authorities. The ship was then brought to San Diego where it remains. It has been docked for the last 24 months at Pepper Park in National City, a southern suburb of San Diego, where local residents can walk the docks to view the impressive ship.

The vessel is believed to be owned by Russian oligarch Suleyman Kerimov, a billionaire and political figure who has perceived close ties to Vladimir Putin and Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov. Kerimov has multiple businesses ventures in oil and gas, banking, precious metals, mining, and property development. Kerimov is notoriously private according to multiple news sources, with Forbes magazine referring to him as similar to a "Russian Warren Buffett" in 2010.

The U.S. Department of Justice and its Office of Public Affairs event went so far as to release a statement clarifying their reasons for forfeiture. The statement made it clear that Amadea, or any other sanctioned superyacht, would be a target for U.S. authorities.

“This ruling should make clear that there is no hiding place for the assets of individuals who violate U.S. laws. And there is no hiding place for the assets of criminals who enable the Russian regime,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “The Justice Department will be relentless in our efforts to hold accountable those who facilitate the death and destruction we are witnessing in Ukraine.”

“Last month, I warned that the department had its eyes on every yacht purchased with dirty money,” said Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco. “This yacht seizure should tell every corrupt Russian oligarch that they cannot hide – not even in the remotest part of the world. We will use every means of enforcing the sanctions imposed in response to Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified war in Ukraine.”

U.S. district judge Dale Ho of the Southern District of New York said in his judgement that despite the exorbitant carrying costs surrounding Amadea, it did not adequately justify sending the vessel to auction.

"The court is wary of relying solely on maintenance costs to justify sale, when those costs represent a small fraction of the value of the res and do not appear to be atypical for property of this type," said Ho.

The dilemma appears to center around the vague nature of 'maintenance costs' and how Amadea is seemingly racking up noticeably higher charges than similarly sized vessels.

According to Boat International, in October 2023 the DOJ "filed a civil forfeiture complaint which could allow the United States government to take ownership of Amadea. The complaint alleged that maintenance and other works were carried out in violation of US law, including allegations of money laundering."

Task Force KleptoCapture co-director Michael Khoo, who was responsible for the seizure, stated: "The United States brings this action today after a careful and painstaking effort to develop the necessary evidence showing [...] clear interest in the Amadea and the repeated misuse of the US financial system to support and maintain the yacht," according to Boat International.

However, last week the U.S. District Court judge ruled that the cost of maintaining Amadea was not "excessive."

According to an article from VOA News, Judge Ho stated in his ruling: "whether the maintenance costs of the Amadea are excessive, the court must not look solely at the total dollar amount of the maintenance costs, but must principally consider whether those amounts are more than what is usual as compared to the maintenance costs for other similar yachts," he said.

Until the matter is resolved, the U.S. government will continue to pay roughly $600,000 for upkeep and $140,000 for insurance per month.

The other mitigating factor is an allegation that Kerimov is not the vessel's true owner, but rather another Russian billionaire named Eduard Khudainatov, who is not under U.S. sanctions.

Khudainatov has claimed the Amadea actually belongs to him, to which the Justice Department responded by calling Khudainatov a "straw owner" for Kerimov.

Two days after the most recent ruling, lawyers for Khudainatov and the company that directly owns Amadea filed a memorandum opposing the U.S. government's attempt to remove Khudainatov from the case.

Adam Ford and Renee Jarusinsky, counsel for Khudainatov and the ownership company, said in a statement that the U.S. government's attempts to strike him from the case are "nothing more than a desperate attempt to steal the Amadea by default," according to VOA News.

"Mr. Khudainatov is, and always has been, the rightful owner of the Amadea," their statement claims. "We are confident that the truth will prevail and the boat will be returned. Until then, this costly burden that the government has placed on the American people will continue to grow heavier."

The growing number of cases involving sanctioned superyacht owners has continued to draw speculation from legal experts and yacht enthusiasts alike. In March, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg managed to purchase a $300 million superyacht from a sanctioned Russian buyer with the help of the Dutch government. The purchase allowed him to bypass the typical waiting times for a new build, which typically take several years. Last summer, Google CEO Eric Schmidt was caught in a major legal battle trying to purchase the 267-foot Alfa Nero from Antiguan authorities after it was repossessed from Russian billionaire Andrey Guryev.

An excellent breakdown of the true ownership of Amadea is below courtesy of eSysman Superyachts:

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