Following the crew list
France, Italy, and Spain have seized at least eight yachts linked to Russian oligarchs hit with sanctions after Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. Other sanctioned Russians have moved their mega-yachts to the Maldives, Seychelles, Dubai, Turkey, and other areas out of the reach of U.S., British, and European Union oligarch asset hunters.
Graceful, a $140 million yacht believed to be owned by Russian President Vladimir Putin, got a head start, sailing from Germany to the coast of Kaliningrad, Russia, in mid-February, about two weeks before Russia's invasion. But the $700 million, 459-foot superyacht Scheherazade, rumored to be "Putin's yacht," has been docked in an Italian port, Marina di Carrara, since September.
"In the rarefied world of the biggest superyachts," The New York Times reported earlier in March, "the Scheherazade is alone in that no likely owner has been publicly identified." Even in "the hyper-confidential world of superyachting," the Times adds, "there is an unusual degree of secrecy surrounding this vessel."
The Scheherazade's British captain, Guy Bennett-Pearce, told the Times that while he is not allowed to disclose who owns the ship, it is not Putin. "I have never seen him," he said. "I have never met him." He also said Italian finance investigators had recently boarded the ship looking for certification documents.
Jailed dissident Alexei Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation said Monday that aside from Bennett-Pearce, the rest of the Scheherazade's crew is not just Russian, but also work for the FSO, or Federal Protective Service, Russia's equivalent of the U.S. Secret Service. Navalny's team ran through how it linked the crew to the FSO in a Russian-language video and in English on Twitter.
Putin officially earns a $136,000 salary and owns a modest apartment, three Soviet-era cars, and a small camping trailer, Radio Free Europe reports, but Navalny's group and other anti-corruption politicians — some subsequently killed or poisoned — have linked Putin to a vast spread of mansions, jets, yachts, and other luxury assets. "Putin never keeps assets under his own name," though, Navalny investigator Maria Pevchikh tweeted. "So you need to look not at the ownership structure but rather at who manages and pays for it."
"FSO is a militarized state agency responsible for the security and wellbeing of Vladimir Putin personally," Pevchikh wrote. But along with bodyguard duties, "FSO officers are also responsible for all Putin's official residences. ... They are literally running Putin's life." And his yacht, apparently, unless finance police can trace the Scheherazade's ownership back to him.