PARIS, March 3 (Reuters) – French authorities have seized four cargo vessels and one luxury yacht linked to Russian oligarchs as governments around the world on Thursday ramped up pressure on Russia’s super-rich over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
Customs officials seized the yacht of Rosneft boss Igor Sechin, who is on the U.S. and European Union’s sanctions lists, before it attempted to flee a French Riviera port, the finance minister said.
At least five other superyachts owned by Russian billionaires are anchored or cruising in the Maldives, an Indian Ocean island nation with no extradition treaty with the United States, ship tracking data showed.
Washington, the European Union and others have said they will target the assets of oligarchs who have amassed fortunes and political influence under Russian President Vladmir Putin.
On Thursday, both the United States and Britain were looking at imposing new rounds of sanctions over the invasion, which Putin has termed a “special operation” in Ukraine.
A French official said as many as 510 people could be subject to asset freezes there.
In Germany, a nearly $600 million luxury yacht owned by Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov, also on the EU’s sanctions list, was sitting in a Hamburg shipyard. A spokesman for Hamburg’s economic authority said there were no plans for the yacht to be delivered to its owner, without providing further detail.
He denied that the government had seized the more than 500-foot (150-metre) Dilbar superyacht. Forbes had reported on Wednesday that the Dilbar had been undergoing a refit in shipyards of Blohm + Voss and that the German government had frozen the asset.
While he has not been targeted for UK sanctions, Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich said on Wednesday he would sell Chelsea Football Club and promised to donate money from the sale to help victims of the war in Ukraine.
The United States on Thursday planned to impose economic sanctions on a new round of Russian oligarchs and their families, two sources familiar with the matter said. Washington has already hit a variety of oligarchs with asset-blocking sanctions.
The source, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said some significant names would be included in Thursday’s actions.
In Britain, foreign minister Liz Truss vowed there was “nowhere for any of Putin’s cronies to hide”.
Truss said Britain was working on a further list of individuals, amid criticism Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government is taking too long to target individuals linked to Putin who have homes and other assets in the country.
A government source said Britain could change the law to make it easier to impose sanctions.
The EU, the United States, Canada and Britain are pooling efforts to examine how oligarchs could find ways to bypass the sanctions and also to nail down the role of trust companies in holding assets, an EU official said on Thursday.
This task force will aim to close loopholes as they become apparent, the official said.
READY TO FLEE?
“Thanks to the French customs officers who are enforcing the European Union’s sanctions against those close to the Russian government,” Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said on Thursday after French customs seized the 88-metre (190-foot) Amore Vero (True Love) before it left port.
It was impounded in the Riviera port of La Ciotat and belongs to a company whose main shareholder is the Rosneft chief Sechin, a close ally of Putin, the finance ministry said.
The Amore Vero had arrived on Jan. 3 and was due to stay until April 1 for repairs, the ministry said in a statement, adding that on Wednesday customs officers had noted that the yacht was “taking steps to sail off urgently, without the repair works being over”.
Rosneft, a Russian oil giant, did not respond to a request for comment over the seizure.
In total, 510 persons or entities could be subject to asset freezes in France, added another official, who spoke to journalists on the condition of anonymity.
Meanwhile, at least five superyachts owned by Russian billionaires appeared to have found temporary haven in the Maldives, a luxury holiday destination. The billionaires are either on existing sanctions lists or face calls to be added.
The superyacht Clio, owned by Oleg Deripaska, the founder of aluminium giant Rusal who was sanctioned by the United States in 2018, was anchored off the capital Male on Wednesday, according to shipping database MarineTraffic.
The Titan, owned by Alexander Abramov, a co-founder of Russian steel producer Evraz, arrived on Monday.
Three more yachts owned by Russian oligarchs were seen cruising in Maldives waters on Wednesday, the data showed. They included the 88-metre (288-foot) Nirvana owned by Russia’s richest man, Vladimir Potanin.
Most of the vessels were last seen anchored in Middle Eastern ports.
A spokesperson for the Maldives government did not respond to a request for comment.