$700M Superyacht Belongs to Putin, New Navalny Investigation Claims

The claim has been dropped in a YouTube video that's going megaviral.
$700M Superyacht Belongs to Putin, New Navalny Investigation Claims

On Monday, jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s organization published a video claiming to have uncovered the mysterious owner of the 13th-largest yacht in the world, worth some $700 million: Vladimir Putin, or someone connected to him.

The yacht, named the Scheherazade—sharing a name with the vizier’s eldest daughter in Tales from the Thousand and One Nights—is currently in the Italian port of Marina di Carrara on Italy's west coast in Tuscany. For a while now, there have been questions about who owns the $700 million, 459-foot-long yacht with multiple decks, helipads, a swimming pool, and sprawling living quarters, but the tight security has thwarted attempts at learning more. 

Earlier this month, the New York Times tried to dive into who owned it, but the crew members declined to give much information—they’d all signed nondisclosure agreements, and employment seemed to go through a series of shell companies. Navalny's organization was able to proceed after getting a hold of the crew list and cross-referencing it with other leaks, starting with the Scheherazade's crew list. Obtaining that gave them visa information that revealed many of the crew members were Russian, which they cross-referenced with previously leaked air travel information on Russians flying to Italy. From there, they identified several crew members as members of Russia's Federal Protective Service (FSO)—essentially, a government agency that protects VIPs and state assets. 

Almost a dozen crew members either can be identified as FSO officers outright or have addresses that are identical to the headquarters of the FSO’s Caucasus branch; when Putin stays at Bocharov Ruchey, a Sochi summer palace near the Black Sea, it’s the Caucus branch that guards him, reporters for Navalny's organization said in the video. Another crew member seems to have worked on a different superyacht: Graceful, a 270-foot-long yacht linked to Putin that was last seen fleeing Germany as sanctions targeting overseas Russian assets were announced.

In other words, Navalny's group insists that because so many crew members work for a branch that guards one of Putin’s favorite properties and because at least one member worked a superyacht widely assumed to be Putin's, this yacht is likely his or at the very least associated with a VIP close to him under whose name the yacht is registered. Navalny points to the well-established network of enablers—lawyers, proxies, and bankers—who help Putin and other Russian oligarchs hide their wealth from scrutiny. 

Until Italian authorities pounce, however, we likely won’t learn the identity of the yacht owner for certain. However, Scheherazade’s investigation has uncovered new details that strongly suggest it is someone in Putin’s inner circle, or Putin himself. Once again, we come up against the problem that until we create a wealth register that tracks ownership of assets such as superyachts, then oligarchs in Russia and the West will be able to hide in plain sight through legal trickery.