Italy gripped by mystery of $700m superyacht said to belong to Putin

With secrecy surrounding the ownership of a $700 million superyacht sitting in an Italian port, police working on the seizure of Russian assets are investigating claims that it belongs to Vladimir Putin.

Italy gripped by mystery of $700m superyacht said to belong to Putin
The multi-million-dollar mega yacht Scheherazade docked at the Tuscan port of Marina di Carrara, Tuscany, on March 22, 2022. Photo by Federico SCOPPA / AFP

In a dry dock in the Tuscan seaside town of Massa stands the ‘Scheherazade’, which has suddenly become the most infamous yacht in Italy due to speculation it could belong to Vladimir Putin.

The 140-metre craft worth an estimated $700 million is now the subject of an investigation into its ownership by Italy’s financial police as Italy seizes the assets of oligarchs linked to the Russian regime.

Several luxury yachts belonging to oligarchs have already been confiscated by Italy and other countries in Europe since Moscow invaded Ukraine last month. The seizure of the ‘Scheherazade’, however, would be the most spectacular were its ownership traced to the Russian president.

READ ALSO: Ukraine’s Zelensky urges Italy to keep seizing Russian yachts and villas

But first, police will need to unravel the mystery of who actually owns it.

For several months, the yacht has been parked for maintenance work at The Italian Sea Group’s shipyard at the Marina di Carrara, within the western seaside town of Massa.

On Wednesday, an AFPTV journalist witnessed no obvious signs of activity on board, although some men were working nearby.

A source close to the ongoing probe by Italy’s financial police told AFP that the investigation could be wrapped up within days.

“We are in a phase of delving deeper and it’s generally more complicated,” said the source. “It’s not always easy to attribute ownership.”

Built by Germany’s Lurssen in 2020, the yacht features two helipads, a swimming pool and a movie theatre, according to the SuperYachtFan website, which researches yachts and their owners.

News reports say the yacht, which flies the Cayman Islands flag, is owned by a company registered in the Marshall Islands.

Its captain is British, but the rest of the crew is Russian, according to researchers at the anti-corruption foundation of Russian dissident Alexei Navalny, which on Monday posted a video on YouTube attributing the yacht to

Researchers cited a crew list in their possession that included several members of Russia’s federal protective service, which is charged with Putin’s security.

But on Wednesday Paolo Gozzani, the head of the local CGIL union, which includes shipyard workers, said the crew of the ‘Scheherazade’ had suddenly changed in recent days.

“The crew was exclusively made up of Russian personnel,” Gozzani told AFP. “And then suddenly all the staff was changed with a British crew, and the reasons are still not clear.”

The New York Times has reported that US authorities have collected evidence linking Putin to the luxury ship, which made two trips, in 2020 and 2021, to the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

The Italian Sea Group said in a statement the yacht was “not attributable to the property of Russian President Vladimir Putin”.

A man rides his bicycle near the multi-million-dollar mega yacht Scheherazade, docked at the Tuscan port of Marina di Carrara, Tuscany, on March 22, 2022. Photo by Federico SCOPPA / AFP

Its assessment was based on “the documentation in its possession and following the findings of the checks carried out by the relevant authorities”, said the shipyard’s owner.

Interviewed by the New York Times earlier this month, the British captain of the ‘Scheherazade’ said Putin was not the owner of the ship and that the Russian president had never set foot on board. Refusing to give the owner’s
name, the captain said it was no one facing current sanctions.

In an address to the Italian parliament on Tuesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called on Italy not to welcome Russia’s oligarchs, and to seize all financial and real estate assets including yachts, “from the Scheherazade to the smallest”.

Since Moscow’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine and the ensuing European Union sanctions, Italian authorities have seized over 800 million euros ($877 million) of assets belonging to Russian oligarchs, Prime Minister Mario Draghi said on Tuesday.

That includes the ‘Sailing Yacht A’, the 530-million-euro yacht linked to Russian billionaire Andrei Melnichenko, ‘Lena’ belonging to Russian oligarch Gennady Timchenko, and the 65-million-euro ‘Lady M Yacht’ belonging to Alexei Mordashov, another billionaire reputedly close to Vladimir Putin.

The sanctions, said Draghi, “have severely affected the economy and financial markets of Russia, as well as the personal assets of the people closest to President Putin”.

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How long will it take Italy to wean itself off Russian gas?

Italy's government has repeatedly said it plans to end its dependence on Russia for gas supplies following the invasion of Ukraine. But as the timeline keeps changing, when and how could this happen?

How long will it take Italy to wean itself off Russian gas?

Italy is heavily dependent on Russian gas, but has been seeking new sources since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine as part of an effort to end this reliance in the coming years.

But it remains unclear whether Italy can really end its dependence on Russia for its gas supply – or when this might be feasible.

READ ALSO: What does Italy’s Algerian gas deal mean for energy supplies?

The government has been seeking new sources since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, including with a recent deal to boost supplies from Algeria.

Prime Minister Mario Draghi said last week the country could be independent of Russian gas by the second half of 2024 – the latest in a series of changing estimates.

“Government estimates indicate that we can make ourselves independent from Russian gas in the second half of 2024,” Draghi told the Senate, while adding that the “first effects” of this plan would be felt by the end of this year.

He said his government was also seeking to boost its production of renewable energy, including by “destroying bureaucratic barriers” to investment, saying it was the “only way” to free Italy from having to import fossil fuels.

Explained: Why and how Italy will pay for Russian gas in rubles

In April, Italy‘s Ecological Transition Minister Roberto Cingolani estimated the country would no longer need Russian gas within 18 months, following an earlier prediction that it could take until 2025.

Italy is one of Europe’s biggest users and importers of natural gas, importing 90 percent of its gas supply with 45 percent of that coming from Russia – up from 27 percent ten years ago.

Italy now imports 29 billion cubic metres of Russian gas a year, which Cingolani said in March “must be replaced” – but he didn’t specify with what.

Analysts have said there are “a lot of questions” about how helpful Italy’s gas deal with Algeria will be.

Despite its vast natural gas reserves, Algeria is already exporting at close to full capacity.

Draghi repeated his strong support for EU sanctions on Moscow last week, including a proposed ban on imports of Russian oil, although this is currently being blocked by Hungary.

“We must continue to keep up the pressure on Russia through sanctions, because we must bring Moscow to the negotiating table,” he said.

But for now, Italian energy giant Eni says it plans to pay for Russian gas supplies in rubles, meeting a demand from Vladimir Putin.

It was not immediately clear whether the plan would fall foul of European Union sanctions, although Eni said it was “not incompatible”.

The company said its decision to open the accounts was “taken in compliance with the current international sanctions framework” and that Italian authorities had been informed.