COMMENTARY: By Graham Davis
If you’re as confused as most people by the exact circumstances surrounding the continuing presence in Fiji of the Russian super yacht Amadea, join the club. Here’s our modest attempt to cut through the fog.
Twelve days ago — on April 14 — the CJ Patel Fiji Sun newspaper trumpeted an exclusive with Police Commissioner Sitiveni Qilihio, reporting that the Amadea had been seized. It had not. In fact, it still hasn’t been formally seized.
What happened last week is that the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) obtained a restraining order from the High Court to prevent the Amadea from leaving Fiji. Until that order was granted, there was every possibility in the intervening period of the vessel leaving.
In fact, lawyers for the owners were arguing that there was no legal justification to detain the Amadea any longer after they had reportedly paid an amount in fines for customs infringements.
It was only when the High Court granted the restraining order that leaving was no longer a legal option.
Indeed, all along there has been a suspicion that the vessel might try to make a run for it. It has a significant armoury and the security forces would have already factored in their ability to prevent a determined attempt to leave.
This application was lodged by the Office of the DPP on a warrant issued by the United States government. The papers are from Washington DC and passed through the Attorney-General’s Office before carriage of the matter was given to the DPP under the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Act.
A second case
Now there is a second case that has been brought before the High Court for the Amadea to be seized. Yes, taken from the owners altogether in line with the American-led sanctions that have been imposed on the nautical playthings and other toys of Russian oligarchs and Vladimir Putin’s cronies the world over.
The High Court will hand down its judgment next Tuesday (May 3), which is expected to be in Washington’s favour.
And sometime after that, the Amadea will presumably become the property of the US government and sail off into the sunset under the command of Uncle Sam in the direction of the US.
It has been an astonishing saga. The original, mostly European crew, had orders to sail from the Mexican port of Mazanillo across the entire Pacific to the Russian port of Vladivosok via Lautoka, where the Amadea has been refuelled and resupplied.
Their services have evidently been terminated and an entirely Russian crew has been on standby to take over when it finally gets permission to sail. Alas for them, their journey to Fiji will have been in vain.
Incredibly, there is still doubt about the vessel’s true ownership. The whole world has been told that it belongs to the Russian oligarch, Suleiman Kerimov, but there is still evidently no conclusive proof — the vessel’s ownership evidently buried in a labyrinth of multiple shelf companies in places like the British Virgin Islands and the Cayman Islands.
For the purposes of the High Court case in Suva, the owner is officially stated as being Millemarin Investment Limited. Is it Suleiman Kerimov?
No evidence about Kerimov
Millemarin Investment’s local lawyer, Feizal Hannif, told the court there was no evidence that it is. He said the vessel’s beneficial owner was in fact one Eduard Khudaynatov. But counsel for the DPP, Jayneeta Prasad, argued that the ownership of the vessel was not an issue. It was subject to a US warrant and the ownership issue was for the American courts to decide.
So fortunately unravelling all of this is not Fiji’s problem. But what was Police Commissioner Sitiveni Qiliho doing 12 days ago telling the Fiji Sun that the Amadea had been seized when we won’t know that for certain until next Tuesday, nearly three weeks after the Sun “scoop”?
And is there going to be any attempt to set the official record straight?
Australian-Fijian journalist Graham Davis publishes the blog Grubsheet Feejee on Fiji affairs. Republished with permission.