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France seizes its first yacht as the West pledges to crack down on Russian oligarchs

Amore Vero, the yacht owned by a company linked to Igor Sechin, is pictured in the shipyard of La Ciotat in southern France on Thursday.
Nicolas Tucat
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AFP via Getty Images
Amore Vero, the yacht owned by a company linked to Igor Sechin, is pictured in the shipyard of La Ciotat in southern France on Thursday.

Updated March 3, 2022 at 3:48 PM ET

French authorities say they have seized a yacht linked to sanctioned Russian oligarch Igor Sechin.

Sechin served as Russia's deputy prime minister from 2008 to 2012 and is the current CEO of state oil company Rosneft.

He is among the several "elites close to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin" that the U.S. Treasury Department targeted with sanctions last week. The European Union imposed sanctions against Sechin on Monday, calling him one of Putin's "most trusted and closest advisors, as well as his personal friend" and saying the two were in daily contact.

French finance minister Bruno Le Maire announced on Thursday that French authorities had seized Sechin's yacht — named "Amor Vero," or "True Love" in Italian — at the Mediterranean port of La Ciotat on Wednesday.

"Thanks to the French customs officers who are enforcing the European Union's sanctions against those close to the Russian government," he said, according to a Reuters translation of his tweet.

The 280-foot yacht had been docked in southern France's La Ciotat since early January, and was set to remain there undergoing repairs through the end of March, CNBC reports. But the French ministry of finance said the yacht was preparing to cast off when authorities began their check, which lasted several hours.

The ministry said it had identified Sechin as the main shareholder of the company that owns the yacht, according to The Guardian.

"As part of the implementation of European Union sanctions against Russia and in support of Ukraine, we seized a first yacht," French Minister at the Ministry of Public Action and Accounts Olivier Dussopt wrote in a tweet on Thursday translated by France24.

The U.S. sanctioned more oligarchs on Thursday

The U.S. announced a fresh round of sanctions against Russian oligarchs later Thursday.

It enacted "full blocking sanctions" on eight oligarchs and their families and imposed visa restrictions on 19 others as well as 47 of their family members and close associates.

"These individuals have enriched themselves at the expense of the Russian people, and some have elevated their family members into high-ranking positions," the White House said in a statement. "Others sit atop Russia's largest companies and are responsible for providing the resources necessary to support Putin's invasion of Ukraine."

It said those targeted by the sanctions will be cut off from the U.S. financial system, with their assets in the U.S. frozen and their property blocked from use. The individuals named include Putin's spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, and billionaire Alisher Usmanov.

Superyachts headed for safe harbor after U.S. and Europe announced sanctions

Citing data from shipping database Marine Traffic, CNBC has reported that at least four Russian billionaires began moving their superyachts toward Montenegro and the Maldives — which doesn't have an extradition treaty with the U.S. — after the U.S. and other Western countries announced a raft of sanctions against Russian oligarchs and financial institutions.

President Biden has repeatedly pledged to pursue the crimes of Russian oligarchs, including in his State of the Union address on Tuesday.

"We're joining with European allies to find and seize their yachts, their luxury apartments, their private jets," he said. "We are coming for your ill-begotten gains."

The following day, the U.S. Department of Justice announced "Task Force KleptoCapture," which it says will enforce sanctions and other financial measures imposed on Russia following its invasion of Ukraine, seize the assets of people who violate them and leave no stone unturned in investigating criminal acts that support Russia's aggression.

German authorities deny reports that they seized an oligarch's yacht

France's announcement comes a day after Forbes reported — citing three yacht industry sources — that German authorities in the port city of Hamburg had seized Usmanov's superyacht.

The status of the yacht is unclear.

Hamburg officials have since denied the report, with a spokesperson for its economic authority telling The Guardian that "no yachts have been confiscated." Any order to seize properties subject to sanctions would have to come from higher federal customs authorities, they added.

But when the White House announced sanctions against Usmanov and other oligarchs on Thursday, it said the superyacht — which it called "one of the world's largest" had been seized by Germany. Officials said property like his yacht and private jet will be blocked from use in the U.S.

The yacht in question, named "Dilbar," measures 512 feet long and is valued at $600 million, both outlets report. It can accommodate as many as 24 guests in a dozen suites, as well as up to 96 crew members, according to luxury yacht comparison site YachtCharterFleet.

Putin's alleged yacht is believed to be out of reach

Satellite imagery obtained by CBS News shows the superyacht believed to be owned by Putin docked in Kaliningrad, a "highly militarized port in Russian territorial waters" and out of reach of U.S. sanctions.

Marine Traffic data suggests "the Graceful," Putin's alleged yacht, left Germany two weeks before Russia invaded Ukraine.

On Tuesday, the "hacktivist" group Anonymous took credit for changing the yacht's call sign to "FKPTN" and its destination to "hell."

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Rachel Treisman
Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.