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Fiji pauses US seizure of yacht linked to Russian oligarch

A court in Fiji has paused the execution of a United States warrant to seize a $300m yacht Washington says is owned by sanctioned Russian oligarch Suleiman Kerimov.

The announcement on Monday came following a request to Fiji’s Court of Appeals by Millemarin Investment, the company that officially owns the 106-metre (348-foot) yacht, called Amadea.

Western countries, including the US, have been targeting the assets of influential Russians with links to the Kremlin as punishment for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

US President Joe Biden has requested that Congress give him the authority to use the proceeds of seized assets to benefit Ukraine, representing an escalation in the pressure campaign against Moscow.

Fijian authorities last week officially seized the yacht, which reportedly has a helipad, pool, jacuzzi and “winter garden” on its sun deck, at the request of the US Justice Department.

Amadea had been impounded by police in Fiji for weeks before its seizure, with the US Justice Department saying Kerimov had previously been designated “as part of a group of Russian oligarchs who profit from the Russian government through corruption and its malign activity around the globe”.

Kerimov was sanctioned by the US in 2014 and 2018. He has also been sanctioned by the European Union.

The case concerning the yacht is scheduled to return to court on Thursday and the US warrant remains officially registered with the Fiji courts, a spokeswoman for the court told the AFP news agency.

She added the yacht “has been further restrained from leaving the Fiji waters until further notice”.

In March, the US Justice Department launched the task force KleptoCapture to specifically focus on seizing yachts and other luxury assets to put the finances of Russian oligarchs under strain in a bid to pressure Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia.

In early April, the US seized a 77.5-metre (254-foot) yacht in Spain owned by Viktor Vekselberg, a billionaire and close Putin ally who heads the Moscow-based Renova Group, a conglomerate encompassing metals, mining, tech and other assets.

On Friday, Italian authorities impounded a 140-metre (460-foot) yacht, saying an investigation found “significant economic and business links” between the yacht’s owner and “prominent elements of the Russian government”, but did not specifically name the Russian president.

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