Russian oligarch yacht sanctioned in Dubai as pressure mounts

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (TUSEN) — A sleek $156 million superyacht owned by a sanctioned Russian oligarch and parliamentarian is now docked in Dubai, the latest reminder of how the skyscraper-dotted sheikh became a haven for Russian money in the midst of Moscow’s war against Ukraine.

The 98-meter (324-foot) Madame Gu, which has a helipad, gym, beach club and lift, remained moored off Dubai’s Port Rashid on Thursday in this which has become a test for the close partnership between the United States and the United Arab Emirates. Emirates.

The ship, with an eye-catching blue hull and an annual paint price of $1 million, is owned by Andrei Skoch, one of the richest men in the Russian Duma. A steel magnate, Skoch’s fortune is valued at around $6.6 billion, according to TUSEN. Attempts to reach Skoch for comment were unsuccessful.

Like Russian billionaire Andrey Melnichenko’s Motor Yacht A moored in the northern emirate of Ras al-Khaimah, Madame Gu’s appearance in Dubai shows how Russian oligarchs have parked their assets in the UAE even as Western governments enforce increasing sanctions and mounting US pressure on its Gulf Arab ally to follow suit.

The US Treasury first sanctioned Skoch in 2018 for his role in government and alleged “long-standing ties to Russian organized crime groups, including time spent running such a business”. Earlier this month, the Treasury designated the Madame Gu, along with her helicopter, banning US entities from doing business with the superyacht. Skoch is also sanctioned by the European Union.

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The Cayman Islands-registered Madame Gu flew an Emirati flag on Thursday as The US Express News reporters eyed the vessel – a show of wealth spectacular enough to rival Dubai’s famed Queen Elizabeth 2 cruise ship floating just ashore. side. It was also moored right next to Dubai’s $200 million megayacht, owned by the city-state’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.

Satellite photos from Planet Labs PBC show the Madame Gu at her berth in Port Rashid from March 25.

The United Arab Emirates, home to glitzy Dubai and oil-rich Abu Dhabi, refused to take sides in Moscow’s war and welcomed the influx of Russian money into their luxury villas and hotels in seaside. The UAE Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The invasion of Ukraine has sent Russia’s wealthiest businessmen and politicians scrambling to save their important assets from what has become an ever-widening net. Superyachts linked to Russian oligarchs have taken on outsized importance in the Western crackdown aimed at pressuring President Vladimir Putin to change course in Ukraine.

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Authorities across Europe and beyond have seized yachts belonging to sanctioned Russian billionaires on a US sanctions list. Earlier this month, for example, the United States won a legal battle in Fiji to confiscate a $325 million Russian superyacht.

Other US allies, including Germany, the UK, France and Italy, are trying to collect and share information with Washington against sanctioned Russians, according to the White House.

One of the few countries where Russians can still fly direct, the United Arab Emirates has chosen not to impose sanctions on Moscow or freeze the assets of Russian billionaires who move to the emirate.

An apparent influx of superyachts and private planes linked to wealthy Russians has so far avoided scrutiny in a country that has long been a magnet for foreign money – legal and otherwise.

But their increasingly visible presence seems to frustrate Washington.

This month, a US court ordered the seizure of two planes worth more than $400 million believed to belong to sanctioned Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich. The former owner of Chelsea Football Club’s Boeing 787 Dreamliner is now in the United Arab Emirates, according to the court filing.

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During a House hearing on Wednesday, US Under-Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf acknowledged that the United Arab Emirates had become a haven for Russian oligarchs linked to Putin.

“I am not at all happy with the record at this stage and I plan to make it a priority to lead to better alignment, shall we say, efforts,” said Leaf, who once served as ambassador to the United Arab Emirates. .

Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo, one of the main US coordinators of Russia’s sanctions strategy, traveled to Dubai and Abu Dhabi this week to meet with Emirati financial officials.

During a banking round, he pleaded for increased vigilance.

“Despite this commitment (to prevent money laundering), the UAE – and other global financial centers – continue to face the threat of illicit financial flows,” he said, according to a reading of the Treasury Department.

Adeyemo warned of the challenges that have arisen amid the war on Ukraine “for governments seeking to hold Russia accountable and for financial institutions like yours who are responsible for implementing financial sanctions. that we impose”.

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The US Express News writer Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates contributed to this report.

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