Megayacht suspected to be owned by Putin about to set sail, despite sanctions

May 6, 2022, 2:35 PM UTC

While Russian oligarchs are seeing their yachts seized all over the world, one that’s reportedly owned by Russian President Vladimir Putin looks set to sail once more.

The Scheherazade, a $700 million, 459-foot vessel, has been in dry dock in Italy as it was repaired, but was put into water again this week. Should it set sail, it could elude the sanctions that have impacted so many of Russia’s richest and most powerful people.

The holdup, say officials, is that while the Scheherazade is widely believed to be linked to Putin, Italian law enforcement hasn’t been able to establish that conclusively. The British captain of the yacht, in previous discussions with reporters, has claimed the yacht is owned by oil tycoon Eduard Khudainatov, who is an associate of a close Putin ally, but is not on any sanctions list himself, says the New York Times.

That information could not be verified, though. And at least one former crew member has claimed Putin is the actual owner.

While yachts owned by oligarchs and others on the sanctions list can be seized at sea (since the U.S. never ratified the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, prohibiting countries from interfering with ships more than 200 nautical miles from shore), it’s a much more complicated process.

News of the Scheherazade’s possible departure comes just days after officials seized a $325 million megayacht in Fiji. Last month, the U.S. took control of a $120 million oligarch-owned yacht. And in March, France and Germany seized vessels of Russian billionaires worth $120 million and $594 million, respectively.

Many of the crew members on the Scheherazade reportedly abandoned their jobs in late March. It’s unclear if all of those positions have been refilled in the interim. The yacht itself is enormous and contains two helipads, a spa, three saunas, a swimming pool, and other luxury amenities. 

Nabbing the superyachts of Russian oligarchs has become a symbolic gauge of how well economic sanctions are working, and both the U.S. and U.K. governments have said explicitly that they are coming for those boats.

Many oligarchs have been sanctioned for their close relationships with Putin, and some are even thought to have helped Putin hide his personal wealth, possibly by buying and holding expensive assets—including yachts—on his behalf.

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