Could the mysterious Italian shipyard superyacht belong to Putin?

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Massa (Italy) (AFP) – The luxurious superyacht ‘Scheherazade’, which is located in shipyards off the Italian coast of Tuscany, is shrouded in mystery as it may belong to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Several yachts belonging to Russian magnates have been seized in Europe since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in late February, but seizing the ‘Shererazade’ would certainly be a spectacular blow if it turns out to belong to the Russian leader .

The 140-meter long yacht, valued at $700 million, is in dry dock near Massa, a luxurious seaside resort in magical Tuscany, a few kilometers from the famous marble quarries of Carrara and Forte dei Marmi, the one of the favorite destinations of Russian billionaires.

Subjected for several months to maintenance in the shipyard of the company The Italian Sea Group, it is almost impossible to approach the boat and no movement is detected on board, said Wednesday an AFPTV journalist.

For Cesare Cucurnia, an 83-year-old retiree, his presence arouses curiosity. “We don’t know who the owner is. He’s definitely not a poor person. It’s probably Putin,” he said as he walked along the promenade.

The Italian financial police have opened an investigation to clarify whether the yacht belongs to a Russian businessman or even to President Putin himself, the conclusions of which will be known in the coming days, a source close to the government told AFP. case.

“We are in the deepening phase, generally the most complicated. We are studying the minutes. It is not always easy to assign ownership” of a ship, especially since in many cases , they are in the name of figureheads, which makes it difficult to identify the true owner or beneficiary, explained the same source.

Built in 2020 at Germany’s Lürssen shipyards, the yacht has two helicopter pads, a swimming pool, a movie theater and an anti-drone battery, according to the administrators of the SuperYachtFan page, which present themselves as investigative journalists.

According to the press, the “Scheherazade”, flying the flag of the Cayman Islands, is owned by a company registered in the Marshall Islands. Its captain is British, but the rest of the crew was Russian, imprisoned Russian dissident Alexei Navalny’s team revealed in a video posted Monday on YouTube, attributing ownership of the megayacht to Vladimir Putin.

According to them, several members of the crew belong to the FSO, an organization responsible for protecting important Russian personalities.

The yacht Scheherazade (c), anchored in the port of Marina di Carrara, in the Italian region of Tuscany, on March 22, 2022 Federico ScoppaAFP

For the New York Times, the American authorities have elements linking the Russian president to the luxurious ship, which made two trips, in 2020 and 2021, to the coastal city of Sochi, on the shores of the Black Sea.

The firm The Italian Sea Group has assured that all this is false. “The ownership of ‘Scheherazade’ cannot be attributed to Russian President Vladimir Putin,” he reacted in a press release, citing “the documentation in his possession and the results of checks carried out by the competent authorities”.

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Asked by the New York Times, the captain of the “Scheherazade” claimed that he had never seen the Russian president on board, although he refused to reveal the name of the owner, due to the fact that he had the contractual obligation to maintain the reserve.

By chance or in a desperate move, the entire crew has been replaced in recent days.

“The crew was made up exclusively of Russians. And suddenly, the whole crew was replaced by personnel of British nationality,” Paolo Gozzani, general secretary of the CGIL trade union confederation in Massa, told AFP.

In a speech to the Italian parliament on Tuesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called on Italy for more sanctions against Russian billionaires vacationing in Italy.

“We must freeze their properties, their accounts, their yachts, from the ‘Scheherazade’ vessel to the smallest. We must freeze the assets of everyone with decision-making power in Russia,” he shouted.

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Italy has seized more than 800 million euros (nearly 900 million dollars) in assets belonging to oligarchs thanks to sanctions decided by the European Union.

The yacht Scheherazade (c), anchored in the port of Marina di Carrara, in the Italian region of Tuscany, on March 22, 2022
The yacht Scheherazade (c), anchored in the port of Marina di Carrara, in the Italian region of Tuscany, on March 22, 2022 Federico ScoppaAFP

Among them is billionaire coal and fertilizer tycoon Andrei Melnichenko’s yacht “Sailing Yacht A”, worth 530 million euros ($580 million).

Italy has also seized the 65 million euro ($71 million) ‘Lady M Yacht’ belonging to Alexei Mordashov, believed to be close to Vladimir Putin.

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