Spain Moves Yacht Linked to Russian Oligarch After Payments Stop
Spanish authorities moved a luxury yacht linked to the sanctioned head of Russian defence group Rostec after the shipyard where it was berthed stopped receiving payments for its repairs, a transport ministry source said.
The multi-million-dollar Valerie was transferred to a marina last month, the source and other officials said, highlighting the logistical challenges authorities have faced managing vessels being held across Europe because of sanctions imposed over Russia's military actions in Ukraine.
Spain ordered the ship "frozen" - meaning the vessel can not be used or sold - in March, saying it was acting on European Union sanctions. The yacht is tied to Sergei Chemezov, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, a police source and another source with knowledge of the matter have told Reuters.
Chemezov, contacted twice through Rostec this month, did not respond to requests for comment.
Payments for the ship's repairs at Barcelona's MB92 shipyard stopped soon after the freezing order, the transport ministry source said, asking not to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue.
MB92 asked authorities to relocate the ship so its berth could be used, the source added.
The Valerie is now moored in the nearby Marina Vela marina and its name has been changed to the Meridian A, Reuters documentation checks and pictures of the vessel show.
MB92 declined to give details about why the ship had been moved or to comment on its payments. Marina Vela did not respond to a request for comment.
James Jaffa, a lawyer for British firm Jaffa & Co which specializes in yachts, said the owners of frozen boats "face a difficult question" when it comes to maintenance costs.
"Do they pay for the upkeep of a boat which they have no control over, certainly no enjoyment, or just leave it and see what happens?," he said.
"I think most oligarchs would happily say 'Well I can't use, I am not paying for it, let's release it'," Jaffa added.
The yacht was moved on Sept. 20 by maritime authority officials and escorted by Spain's civil guard police, a spokesperson for that force said.
Chemezov has been under EU and U.S. sanctions since 2014 over Russia's annexation of Crimea.
He was also named in sanctions imposed by Australia in March over Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
The 85-metre (279-foot) long yacht, that Spain has said it is worth $140 million, is formally owned by Chemezov's stepdaughter, Anastasia Ignatova, according to the European Union's sanctions list to which she was added in April.
Its immobilisation was unsuccessfully challenged in Spanish courts in March by Sulberg Services Limited, a company registered as the yacht's owner in the Equasis shipping database. Sulberg argued that Spanish authorities could not prove who owned the yacht and could therefore not freeze it. A Madrid court rejected the claim in April.
Ignatova, contacted through a Moscow university where she has lectured, did not respond to a request for comment. A lawyer for Sulberg declined to comment.
In Spain, where six vessels have been frozen following sanctions imposed after Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February, the running costs of a frozen yacht remain the owner's responsibility.
Reuters revealed this week that other sanctioned Russians are paying for the upkeep of yachts frozen in France and Spain using a little-known European law adopted as domestic legislation that allows such payments.
It was not immediately clear who, if anyone, was paying for the vessel's upkeep in the new marina, or why it was renamed.
The name Meridian A is now written on labels on its stern while the metal tags with its prior Valerie name are gone.
The yacht first displayed its new name on Sept. 19, a day before it was relocated, according to analytics provider MarineTraffic.
The yacht's crew declined to comment. Its UK-based manager did not respond to requests for comment.
(Reuters - Reporting by Joan Faus; Additional reporting by Javier Alvarez and Jonathan Saul; editing by Aislinn Laing and Andrew Heavens)