Boat crews link Putin’s alleged superyacht to other Russian tycoon ships
A superyacht that Kremlin opponents say is secretly owned by Russian President Vladimir Putin shared the same construction manager and European crew members as several other yachts belonging to Russian tycoons that Western governments have seized or targeted by sanctions, according to an investigation by RFE/RL.
RFE/RL also discovered that a senior member of the Russian crew of the Scheherazade, worth an estimated $700 million, previously worked for a Russian yachting company that secured millions of dollars in service contracts. Kremlin security officers, whose officers would have served on the yacht’s crew.
The survey is based on a analysis of a crew list for the Scheherazade – the property of which is wanted by Italian authorities – which was published on March 21 by associates of imprisoned Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny.
The mystery of who owns the 140-metre vessel, now moored in the chic port of Marina di Carrara in Tuscany, has swelled in recent weeks amid the Italian investigation and an unprecedented Western sanctions campaign after the Russian invasion of Ukraine last month.
Navalny’s team claimed to have identified several crew members as officers of the Russian Federal Guard Service (FSO), which is responsible for Putin’s security, adding to evidence of the ship’s possible links to the Russian president. .
The ship was even shrouded in mystery for the crew, a source who worked on board the Scheherazade told RFE/RL. The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons, said the absence of the yacht’s name and port of registry was “very unusual” and that the crew members would refer to the vessel by numeric code rather than by name.
“It was a very big secret,” the source said.
All the yachts of the oligarchs
The construction of the Scheherazade, which was completed by the German company Lurssen in 2020, was overseen by the Monegasque company Imperial Yachts, which also managed the construction of luxury ships linked to Putin’s confidant Igor Sechin, head of the Russian oil giant Rosneft, and billionaire Alisher Usmanov, whom the White House identifies as “a close ally of Putin.”
French authorities announced in early March that they had seized the alleged Sechin-linked Amore Vero, while the United States targeted Usmanov’s yacht Dilbar with penalties.
At least two people on Scheherazade’s crew list worked for Imperial Yachts, according to public records, including a New Zealand-born carpenter Nicholas Snooks, who also worked on Usmanov’s yacht. He and the other crew member who public records show has links to Imperial Yachts – a British woman named Esme Leyland – were listed as ‘additional workers’ on the crew list released by the team. by Navalny.
Attempts by RFE/RL to contact the ship’s crew were unsuccessful.
A spokesman for Imperial Yachts told RFE/RL that the company’s involvement in the Scheherazade ended with her delivery in June 2020. He said the company was aware of the identity of the owner of the yacht but said “as is customary in the industry, client confidentiality is considered paramount.
He said that while the company “notes recent press speculation”, it is “not aware of any involvement [by Putin] whatever” with the yacht.
The ship’s British captain, Guy Bennett-Pearce, told the New York Times this month that Putin had never owned or set foot on the Scheherazade. He said Italian investigators had reviewed the ship’s documents.
The Scheherazade’s first captain, meanwhile, has also worked on other yachts that have been linked to Putin associates and have been hit with Western sanctions. The captain, a US national named Alexander Scherbakovpiloted the ship for two months after it was completed, according to his LinkedIn profile.
The profile says that in 2017-2019, Scherbakov captained the 65-meter superyacht Rahil, which was owned by state-sanctioned Grigory Bayevsky, a business partner of Putin’s longtime friend Arkady Rotenberg. US and EU.
A 2016 survey by OCCRP revealed that Putin’s daughter, Yekaterina Tikhonova, had listed her official residence as an apartment outside Moscow owned by Bayevsky.
During the summer of 2014, Scherbakov worked on the yacht St. Vitamin, owned by Kremlin-linked tycoon Yevgeny Prigozhin, according to his LinkedIn profile. In 2019, the United States targeted St. Vitamin and other Prigozhin-owned assets with sanctions.
The Russian Commissioner
The crew list released by Navalny’s team also revealed a connection to a well-known Russian yachting company that landed millions of dollars in state contracts with the FSO, whose officers the team says are believed to be de Navalny, crew members of the Scheherazade.
The Scheherazade’s purser – who is responsible for various aspects of a yacht’s operation, including financial administration – is listed as Viktoria Kulikova. A Facebook account of a woman mentioning the same name and the same date of birth as on the crew lists indicates that her place of work is Burevestnik Group. In 2017, Kulikova was listed as sales manager for Burevestnik.
Founded by prominent Russian businessman Andrei Boyko in 2003, Burevestnik is the most important company in the world of Russian yachting. While Boyko was arrested in 2009 on smuggling charges that were eventually dropped, his business has since benefited from lucrative government projects.
In 2018, the Russian state-owned shipping company Sovcomflot granted Burevestnik the management rights of the large marina in Sochiwhich was built in the southern Russian resort of Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympics.
A To analyse of state tenders by the Russian service of RFE/RL shows that between 2008 and 2012, Boyko’s company, owner of the Burevestnik Group’s brand – AG Marin – won a total of 38 contracts to supply patrol boats and related supplies to the SFO for a total of 507.6 million rubles, or $17.2 million according to the average exchange rate during this period.
Kulikova did not respond to requests for comment on her work as a purser for the Scheherazade. A person who answered the phone to the Burevestnik group said that he no longer worked there.
Burevestnik did not respond to an inquiry about whether he had any involvement with the Scheherazade, nor did the OFS.
Changing of the guards
Supposedly leaked footage from inside the Scheherazade was published by British tabloid The Sun on March 22. They show a tiled dance floor that can be lowered to become a swimming pool, as well as a self-leveling pool table that fits the yacht. movement, an on-deck jacuzzi and a workout room with a framed photograph of a judo robe – one of Putin’s favorite sports.
Documents released by Navalny’s team show that the yacht is on paper owned by a company called Bielor Asset Ltd., a public limited company registered in the Marshall Islands.
The Imperial Yachts spokesperson told RFE/RL that it had no business relationship with Bielor or the FSO, as “the crew of the yacht would have been after Imperial’s involvement”.
On March 23, the AFP news agency quoted an unidentified source familiar with the investigation by the Italian financial police as saying the deal could be concluded within days.
“We are in a deepening phase and it is generally more complicated,” the source told AFP. “Assigning ownership is not always easy.”
Meanwhile, AFP and The Times of London quoted Paolo Gozzani, an official from Italy’s CGIL union, as saying a British crew had taken over from the Russians on the yacht for reasons that weren’t immediately clear.
The source who worked on the Scheherazade told RFE/RL that the same type of exchange happened after the superyacht was delivered after its completion in June 2020, but the other way around: a British crew was replaced by a Russian crew.