Alfa Nero Luxury Yacht Ownership Fuels Seizure of Russian Assets Saga

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In the unfolding saga entangled in the aftermath of the war in Ukraine, the ownership of a luxury superyacht, the Alfa Nero, has become emblematic of the complexities surrounding the seizure of Russian assets. Tracing back the intricate ownership web of the £54m superyacht led investigators to a UK firm, the lawful services of which enable a Russian oligarch to maintain that such substantial assets do not actually belong to him.

The continuous legal battle over the ownership of the Alfa Nero has resumed in Antigua, instigated by the daughter of Russian billionaire Andrey Guryev, who is challenging the seizure of the yacht. The island’s government, aiming to auction off the vessel and retain the proceeds, even amended its laws ahead of the intended auction last June. Initially procured by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt for a sum of £54m, the winning bid was subsequently retracted amidst a storm of legal disputes, including the one initiated by Mr Guryev’s daughter. She alleges she is the sole adult beneficiary of the trust that holds the yacht’s ownership, separate from her billionaire father.

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The launch of this challenging investigation unveiled assets linked to the billionaire, valued at around £500m, and illuminated how the careful orchestration of trust structures managed by the British firm has allowed Mr Guryev to dispute any ownership of the identified yachts and London properties at the time of his sanctioning.

Roaming through the exclusive Falmouth Harbour in Antigua, a dockhand willingly disclosed the lavish features of the Alfa Nero, yet fell silent when questioned about its prior owner. Prior to the vessel’s confiscation back in April, the US government stated it belonged to Mr Guryev, labeling him as a “known close associate” of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and linking him to a group of “Kremlin-connected elites.”

Mr Guryev amassed his fortune co-founding the fertilizer firm PhosAgro after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. By the time the company was listed on the London Stock Exchange in 2011, Mr Guryev had purchased the run-down Witanhurst Estate, which he remodelled into a luxury London mansion worth around £300m. Documents submitted to Companies House in 2023 indicate a connection between the Witanhurst Estate, the Alfa Nero, and the Guryev family, tied to an address in Guernsey, a British crown dependency.

Interestingly, another opulent asset linked to this same Channel Island address is the Luminosity, one of the world’s biggest hybrid superyachts. Following the invasion of Ukraine, this massive vessel departed an Italian port to dock in non-EU Montenegro, a journey that took place just a day after EU sanctions were imposed on Mr Guryev’s son.

The address in Guernsey leads to the inconspicuous offices of wealth management firm Opus Private, which proclaims to assist “some of the world’s wealthiest individuals manage and protect their assets.” Along with other substantial properties, such as a £50m London penthouse, this firm is connected to a Guryev family portfolio worth over £500m.

Through court records, Opus Private was identified as involved in an unsuccessful legal action that attempted to halt the initial auction of the Alfa Nero. The company insists that Mr Guryev is not their client as he is no longer a beneficiary of the trust overseeing the yacht, though they have notified the UK and Guernsey authorities of the trust assets they presume as frozen, corresponding to UK sanctions against Mr Guryev.

In stark contrast, Ukraine has intensely focussed on confiscating Russian assets, positioned to counter claims by Russia’s impact on global food security through its control of the fertilizer industry. Ukraine has already sanctioned approximately 9,000 individuals and companies, including all members of the Guryev family.

The UK government’s stance is to retain frozen assets until Russia compensates for war damages caused in Ukraine. Yet, neither the Treasury nor the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office has addressed queries concerning the Guryev family’s UK-based assets.

A spokesperson for Mr Guryev stated the sanctions against him were without any ‘proper or legitimate basis,’ while Opus Private emphasized the legality of trust structures, assuring that their services comply with all applicable laws.