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Mysterious superyacht believed to belong to Putin is attracting a lot of attention on the Tuscan coast

The Italian Guardia di Finanza sails towards the Scheherazade.Image AFP

‘Come on’, the heavily tattooed boat rental owner Andrea (‘Please don’t mention my last name’) beckons three tourists to the end of his jetty. “You can see it better from here.” As soon as the Cipelli family stepped onto the jetty with a searching look, the boat rental company understood what they were coming for.

Nico (76), his son Michele (46), and his daughter Camilla (20) live in Parma, but the family has a second home on the Tuscan coast. Their lunch trip to the coastal town of Marina di Carrara couldn’t miss a glimpse of the yacht they’d seen on TV, Michele says cheerfully.

They are not the first to come and see, according to the routine with which Andrea points out the white spheres on the roof of the yacht Scheherazade (estimated value around 650 million euros). On the six-deck (storey) ship, they tower above the other luxury boats that are not exactly small. Since May 6, the ship has been officially seized by the Guardia di Finanza and is therefore no longer allowed to sail.

The 140-meter yacht is most likely owned by Vladimir Putin, made The New York Times announced in March. The team of opposition politician Alexei Navalny has also emphasized this since the start of the war in Ukraine. It states, among other things, that a large part of the ship’s crew came from the Russian security service FSO, which is tasked with protecting the president.

There is no black-and-white evidence that the yacht belongs to Putin, as is the case with most of the Russian president’s assets. Yet everyone in the little marina next to the wharf knew about it long before the war started, say boat rental company Andrea and his girlfriend Veronica.

Summers in Sochi

The rumor that the Russian president is the true owner has been circulating in the small coastal town since the ship arrived at the shipyard in September for work. The colossus is made in Germany and was delivered in 2020. In the summers of that year and last year, according to maritime traffic data, it sailed to Sochi, where Putin has a country retreat.

The Italian newspaper La Stampa Russian identified Eduard Yurievich Khudaynatov as the official owner in March through a letterbox company in the Marshall Islands. Khudaynatov, the former director of the Russian state oil company Rosneft, is not on the EU sanctions list. Nevertheless, at the beginning of May, the Guardia di Finanza proceeded to confiscate the ship, on the basis of a ministerial decree.

In the accompanying press release, Italy said it had evidence that the owner “has ties to prominent members of the Russian government and other subjects on the sanctions list.” Khudaynatov, whose own $25 million villa in Portofino has not yet been seized, may not be on it himself, but he is close to billionaire Igor Setshin, whose name does appear on the blacklist.

In Marina di Carrara nobody is very concerned about which legal path has been taken. It’s war, so there’s a hurry, says bartender Daniele Ciccotti (46) with a shrug. The terrace of his café overlooks the shipyard of The Italian Sea Group, which manages the yacht.

In addition to great secrecy, there is also mainly resignation at the office of The Italian Sea Group. In the lobby full of gleaming black marble, mirrors and extravagant modern sculptures, a marketing employee wants no more than for the company to “fully cooperate with the authorities.”

And the Italian authorities like to show that they are decisive in confiscating Russian assets. At the beginning of April, the government announced that it had already seized almost a billion euros in mainly houses and boats.

The seizure of the Scheherazade followed last week directly on a message from – again – The New York Times† According to the American newspaper, the boat was about to set sail, which also caused unrest in the Italian media and the government conjured up the decree at lightning speed.

High maintenance costs

The pier of the Tuscan coastal town is now mainly the site of wrinkled men who cycle at walking pace, young parents with prams and retired couples. Most do not look at the shipyard, but the other way, at the picturesque sea view.

Only Elisa Castellini (73) and her husband Gabriele stop at the gate to gaze at the Scheherazade, as if it were an exotic species. The retired couple from Milan think the confiscation is a good thing, but are also concerned about the consequences of the harsh policy for Italian taxpayers.

For example, it is not yet clear who will pay for the high maintenance costs of the yacht. newspaper La Nazione reports, based on anonymous government sources, that the owner of Scheherazade continues to pay himself, but officially the state should pick up the bill. According to the employee of The Italian Sea Group, no decision has yet been made.

And those high maintenance bills aren’t just a problem at Scheherazade. The Russian villas on Lake Como, a mega yacht in the port of Trieste and the many other confiscated goods also entail high costs.

As costs quickly mount up, Italy is now working on a decree that should make it possible to (partially) sell goods, just to cover maintenance and administrative costs.

‘It’s good that they confiscated that boat,’ Gabriele Castellini says on the pier, but he would prefer to see Italy expropriate and sell the boat completely, and not just for maintenance costs. His wife nods in agreement. “Let them give the proceeds to the reconstruction of Ukraine.”

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