The megayacht was purportedly owned by Viktor Vekselberg, a billionaire born in Ukraine and a close associate of Vladimir Putin. This is the first time US government officials have seized a yacht belonging to a Russian oligarch.
Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began on February 24, former CIA employee Alex Finley claims that 16 yachts linked to Russian oligarchs have been seized.
The seizure was announced online by Spain’s Civil Guard on Monday. As per the guard, it was done in coordination with the FBI and Homeland Security Investigations.
According to photos released on Monday, authorities from the Spanish Civil Guard accompanied representatives from both US agencies aboard the yacht in the port of Palma de Mallorca.
The Associated Press reported seeing the officials on board as well.
Officials recovered documents and computers from the yacht, which will be analyzed for more evidence. Spain’s civil guard reported that Vekselberg owns the boat.
According to Superyachtfan.com, the 254-foot-long boat has seven cabins for visitors and is valued at $120 million. It was completed in 2011 and was a World Superyacht Awards finalist in 2012.
Vekselberg was sanctioned by the US Treasury Department and was identified as the “Russian businessman and Kremlin insider.” In the sanctions announcements, his boat and jet were expressly mentioned.
It’s unknown what will happen to the seized yachts or who will be responsible for their upkeep.
Officials can detain them for a period of time based on suspicion or open-source reports. But beneficial ownership, or who owns the yacht rather than the company listed as the owner, must be confirmed by untangling the financial web of shell companies and management companies that shield the ultimate owner, according to Finley.
Official news statements have reported that authorities are likely to detain the boats for as long as sanctions are in effect or until the owner is shown not to be on the sanctions list.
Even before the invasion, the US had set its sights on Vekselberg. He is being investigated in the United States for tax fraud and money laundering, and he has a long history of political engagement in the United States.
Vekselberg was never charged with any wrongdoing, but his presence at Donald Trump’s 2016 inauguration aroused intrigue. According to pictures, Vekselberg was also there at an infamous 2015 Moscow gala where Michael Flynn—who went on to become Donald Trump’s National Security Advisor for only 22 days—sat next to Vladimir Putin.
He was also sanctioned by the US in 2018, ostensibly to punish Moscow for intervening in the 2016 election.
In 2018, he was probed by agents working on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election.
In a report by the New York Times, he was confronted after stepping off a private plane in the New York area and was then interrogated by federal agents. According to the report, his electronic devices were searched during the investigation.