Russian Oligarch’s 'Black Pearl' at the Center of Huge Legal Dispute Over His Fortune
By: Scott Way
Pirates weren't the type to write a will, but the one written by a Russian billionaire who owned the Black Pearl is now the focus of an epic estate battle. It seems there is no hiding on the seven seas.
The 350-foot long $200 million Black Pearl sailing yacht was commissioned by Russian oligarch Oleg Burlakov, who passed away in June at age 72. Burlakov was a self-made industrial tycoon with the nickname "The Cement King" who had business dealings across the chemical, aerospace, and energy industries. He was also a patriot and served in the Russian Air Force, then under the USSR moniker, through the 70's and 80's with a distinguished record. Upon leaving the military he invested heavily in the oil industry and eventually took control of one of Russia's biggest national companies, Novoroscement. He also later took the helm of oil exploration company Burneftgaz. When he sold Novoroscement in 2007 for $1.5 billion and Burneftegaz in 2014 for $1 billion, his fortune became massive. Oleg and his wife Lyudmila moved to Canada in 1995, and he was laid to rest in July 2021 in North York, a borough of Toronto. He is survived by his wife of 48 years, and two daughters Elena and Veronica.
Aside from his wealth and economic pursuits, Burlakov was also considered an eco-sailing pioneer for his work developing the Black Pearl, which he commissioned in 2010. The unique sailing yacht is widely considered an engineering feat due to both its size and self-sustaining construction. The ship carries three carbon fiber masts with over 31,000 sq ft of sail area, and has a maximum speed of 30 knots (35 mph) under wind power. The sails themselves absorb solar power to run the ship's electronic systems. The ship's builder, Oceanco, claims the Black Pearl can cross the Atlantic unsupported without burning any fossil fuel (although it does have diesel engines as backups).
But despite his wealth and influence Burlakov's death has triggered one of the biggest estate battles in human history. His first will, allegedly written in 2004, gave his entire fortune to his wife and daughters. However, three years ago Burlakov was accused of infidelity and he and his wife Lyudmila were in the midst of divorce proceedings at the time of his death. Now, a mysterious second will has emerged that favours Burlakov's sister and brother-in-law. The second will is apparently a two-page handwritten document written in a notebook that was discovered after Burlakov's death.
The assets in dispute include more than just the Black Pearl. There is also a $100 million mansion in Monaco, a private jet, and an estimated $4 billion in cash. The legal battle is taking place in court in Monaco, Italy, but focuses on a series of meetings between Burlakov and his wife and daughters in London in 2018. There, the family claims, Burlakov began a fraudulent scheme to hide his wealth and put it in the hands of his brother-in-law Nikolai Kazakov. According to Lyudmila and the daughters, Oleg claimed an agreement had always been in place with Kazakov for the bulk of his wealth. The meetings in 2018 didn't come to a resolution, and now with the appearance of a handwritten second will that favours Kazakov, the legal battle is just starting to set sail.
As for the Black Pearl, she is the second largest sailing yacht in the world behind fellow Russian billionaire Andrey Melnichenko's 469-foot Sailing Yacht A (although they were both set to get bumped down by Jeff Bezos' rumored 500-footer). She was built by Dutch shipyard Oceanco, who also built Sailing Yacht A and are rumoured to be building the Bezos yacht. The ship is equipped with a unique propulsion system that harnesses solar energy generated while under sail, meaning it rarely needs to use its diesel engines to power its internal systems or provide propulsion. Each of her three carbon fiber masts is a staggering 229 feet high, and her custom-built DynaRig sails can be set in just seven minutes. Below deck there is room for 12 guests, a spa swimming pool, a hot tub, a cinema, and a beach club.
As for the legal proceedings, things are just heating up as Oleg's mistress Sofia Shevtsova has now entered the fray. The 27 year old Russian woman is threating to have Burlakov exhumed for a DNA sample to prove he fathered her child. If that proves true, Shevtsova will also be entering the legal battle for a share of the fortune.
You can get a great inside look at the story of the Black Pearl in the video below: