Putin ally’s $200 million superyacht to be auctioned to benefit Ukraine

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Since the beginning of the Ukraine war in February, sanctions against oligarchs close to Russian President Vladimir Putin have been used as a tool to put pressure on Russia. Assets affected thus far have included yachts, luxury planes and lavish residences throughout the world.

According to a Wednesday press release from the Ukrainian government, the latest development saw a Croatian court clear the way for a $200 million superyacht to be sold to benefit Ukraine.

Royal Romance, as the yacht is called, is a 300-foot long Dutch-designed custom creation that can entertain 14 guests and is served by some 21 crew members. The yacht belonged to Viktor Medvedchuk, a Ukrainian oil and media baron who has led a pro-Russian party in Ukraine for years, even after the 2014 annexation of Crimea and the beginning of the war in the Donbas.

Medvedchuk is a Putin ally who has vacationed with the Russian leader. Putin himself is godfather to Medvedchuk’s daughter, Daria. 

The Ukrainian Asset Recovery and Management Agency (Arma) said that it would “preserve the economic value [of the yacht] by selling it at auction.”

According to The Guardian, it is the first such sale on behalf of the Ukrainian people since Western governments began to impose restrictions on the assets of hundreds of oligarchs.

Viktor Medvedchuk's Royal Romance can be seen cruising near Venice. 

Viktor Medvedchuk’s Royal Romance can be seen cruising near Venice. 
(Courtesy of Kasa Fue/Wikimedia Commons)

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Medvedchuk was recently part of an unexpected September prisoner swap between Russia and Ukraine. Some 300 people were exchanged, including the commanders who led a prolonged Ukrainian defense of Mariupol earlier this year.

The oligarch was first detained in April in a special operation carried out by Ukraine’s state security service, or the SBU. Though he was charged with treason last year, Medvedchuk escaped from house arrest within days of hostilities breaking out on Feb. 24 in Ukraine. 

This year, many assets that made up Medvedchuk’s 2021 net worth of $620 million have been seized by the Ukrainian government: palatial villas across Ukraine, cars and shares of capital in various companies.

However, the superyacht is a particular gem among Medvedchuk’s holdings, boasting a nearly 40-foot swimming pool alongside a waterfall that flows over Royal Romance’s stern. 

Croatian newspaper Jutarnji list reported Tuesday that the FBI raided the yacht last month. After a court in Split, Croatia, granted a search warrant request from the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ), FBI agents boarded the yacht, which is docked in the town of Trogir. Judge Dinko Mešin confirmed that Medvedchuk and his wife, Oksana Marchenko, were named in the search warrant. 

Oligarch Viktor Medvedchuk.

Oligarch Viktor Medvedchuk.
(Photo by Sergii Kharchenko/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Superyachts belonging to other oligarchs have been seized in the months since the war began. 

Dilbar, the world’s sixth-longest yacht, which features two helipads, was seized by German authorities while it was docked in the port of Hamburg. The yacht was determined to have been indirectly transferred from oligarch Alisher Usmanov to his sister, both of whom are under Western sanctions. It is reportedly worth around half a billion dollars. 

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Another yacht, Amadea, worth north of $300 million and belonging to Suleiman Kerimov, was seized by authorities in Fiji in May, according to a DOJ press release. 

The United States now has its sights set on the $156 million yacht named Madame Gu, the New York Times reported. The craft, linked to Russian oligarch Andrei Skoch, has been named a blocked property by the U.S., but its seizure will prove diplomatically complicated. Madame Gu is currently docked in Dubai, with the U.A.E. balking at cooperation.

The seizure of these crafts has been an important strategy pursued by the Biden administration.

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“We are joining with our European allies to find and seize your yachts, your luxury apartments, your private jets,” explained President Biden in his State of the Union address on March 1. 

“We are coming for your ill-begotten gains.”

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report. 



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