Superyacht allegedly linked to Putin blocked from leaving Italian shipyard

The Italian economy minister has signed an order blocking a superyacht allegedly linked to the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, from leaving port.

In a statement on Friday night, the ministry said that Daniele Franco had signed the decree based on evidence that the owner of the Scheherazade, which has been undergoing a refit at a shipyard in Tuscany since September, has “significant economic and business connections” with “prominent elements of the Russian government and with others subject to EU sanctions”.

The statement did not name the owner of the vessel, but said the ministry had asked the EU to place the individual on to the sanctions list. The yacht has been blocked pending the adoption of further restrictive measures.

The order came amid fears that the vessel, said to be worth $700m (£530m), was about to leave the shipyard in Marina di Carrara.

The Scheherazade has been under investigation since March for potential links to sanctioned Russians, including Putin.

A report in the New York Times said that it had been moved out of dry dock and into the water on Tuesday. The newspaper cited a crew member who said it could leave the port imminently.

A spokesperson for the Italian Sea Group, a company that repairs and builds luxury yachts, told the Guardian that the vessel was scheduled to set sail by the middle of June.

Marianna Ferrante, the company’s marketing director, said: “Maintenance work is progressing and there are no scheduled departures anytime soon.”

The company originally said the €6m refit would be completed in early 2023. The yacht is said to be equipped with a spa, swimming pools, two helipads, a wood-burning fireplace and a pool table designed to tilt so as to reduce the impact of the waves.

Finance police in Marina di Carrara boarded the Scheherazade in early March as EU sanctions against Russian oligarchs kicked in over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. They seized ownership documents from the yacht’s British captain, Guy Bennett-Pearce. At the time, US officials said they were also investigating whether the yacht belonged to Putin. Activists working with the jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny have also claimed Putin is the owner.

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A source at the finance police said the investigation was “very complex” owing to a web of company names that could be concealing the real owner.

“As you can imagine, after all this time, it’s not been easy [to identify] an owner, because of all the companies in between,” the source said. “There is no more information we can give, and asking if it belongs to Putin is like a lottery.” The source would not confirm whether or not police were preparing to seize the vessel.

An investigation by La Stampa newspaper in March linked the Scheherazade to Eduard Yurievich Khudainatov, the former president of the Russian state oil firm Rosneft, via a shell company registered in the Marshall Islands. Khudainatov is not on the sanctions list.