Italian authorities froze the Scheherazade superyacht—believed to be owned by Russian president Vladimir Putin—in the port of Marina di Carrara on Friday. In a press release announcing the freezing, the Italian Ministry of Economy and Finance stated that an investigation conducted by Italian financial police found that the ship’s beneficial owner had "significant economic and business ties" to high-ranking people in the Russian government and individuals sanctioned by the European Union.
Still, it’s a bit murky who ultimately owns the 459-foot yacht, which has been under investigation for months while it remained in a drydock in Marina di Carrara. The ship left the drydock and re-entered the waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea on Tuesday, sparking fears that it may try to flee before the Italian investigation concluded. Valued at $510 million by yacht valuation experts VesselsValue, Scheherazade is registered in the Cayman Islands and owned by Bielor Asset Limited, a company in the Marshall Islands.
An investigation by Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation in late March tied the Scheherazade to Putin, finding that all of the ship's crew members—except for the captain—are Russian citizens and many are employed by the Federal Protective Service, the agency in charge of Putin’s personal protection. Earlier in March, Italian newspaper La Stampa reported that the ship’s beneficial owner was Eduard Khudainatov, the former CEO of Russian state-owned oil giant Rosneft and a close ally of Putin and Rosneft's longtime executive, Igor Sechin. A former crew member of the Scheherazade told the New York Times that they had never heard of Mr. Khudainatov and that it was “openly discussed onboard that Scheherazade’s real owner was Putin.” U.S. officials also told the newspaper that they believed the yacht had ties to Putin.
In the press release announcing the freezing, the Italian Ministry of Economy and Finance stated that its Financial Security Committee had proposed to the European Council that it should include Scheherazade’s beneficial owner—believed to be Khudainatov—in the sanctions list. Khudainatov has also been identified as a proxy owner for another yacht, the 348-foot, $300 million Amadea, which the U.S. Department of Justice says is actually owned by sanctioned oligarch Suleiman Kerimov. (Amadea was seized by Fijian authorities at the request of the U.S. government on Thursday.)
Scheherazade was built by German shipyard Lürssen in 2020 and features a helicopter pad, beauty salon, movie theater, spa and gym. The yacht's construction was managed by Monaco-based Imperial Yachts, a company that a yacht industry source called “Putin’s people when it comes to yachts.” A spokesperson for Imperial told Forbes that the firm acted as the construction manager for Scheherazade but does not currently manage the yacht. “Imperial Yachts does not have clients who are sanctioned individuals or entities,” they added.