Ports group harbouring Abramovich-linked yacht ‘risks UK sanctions breach’
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A London-listed port operator is at risk of violating UK sanctions law, experts say, as a Turkish terminal in which it has a controlling stake harbours a yacht suspected of being owned by sanctions-hit Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich.
Global Ports Holding is the world’s biggest cruise port operator, running 22 terminals in 14 countries including the dock in Bodrum where Solaris, a 140-metre vessel, arrived last week.
The company, whose co-founder and chair is Turkish, has been listed on the London Stock Exchange since 2017 and describes itself as “a UK plc that has truly global operations”.
Scrutiny of the Turkish port’s hosting of Solaris highlights the challenge of enforcing sanctions on Russian oligarchs, given the opacity over the ownership of their global assets and the array of jurisdictions involved.
Lawyers said a UK-listed company would be taking a significant risk if it accepted fees for hosting a yacht suspected of belonging to an individual under sanctions.
“They’re certainly at risk . . . a very big risk” of breaching UK sanctions, said Michael Biltoo, a partner at law firm Kennedys. “If we were advising them, we’d say, ‘stop, you need to make a number of checks’.” He said the firm would be subject to UK sanctions rules even though its operations are in Turkey.
Abramovich, 55, is among a group of Russian oligarchs targeted by UK sanctions three weeks ago as London widened its efforts to punish Russian president Vladimir Putin and his allies over the invasion of Ukraine.
The Chelsea Football Club owner was accused by the UK of having benefited financially and otherwise for decades from close links to the Russian leader.
He has also emerged as a mediator in peace talks between Moscow and Kyiv, and was photographed on Tuesday alongside a senior adviser to Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan as Russian and Ukrainian officials held peace talks in Istanbul.
The yacht, completed in 2021 and boasting a helipad and swimming pool, is owned by Beautiful Seascapes Limited, according to maritime database Equasis. Information on the ultimate owner of Beautiful Seascapes, which according to the International Maritime Organization is registered in the British Virgin Islands, is not publicly available. However, it has been widely reported that the yacht belongs to Abramovich.
A group of Ukrainian protesters sought to stop Solaris from mooring when it arrived in Bodrum last week.
A spokesperson for Abramovich this month appeared to acknowledge the billionaire’s ownership of the vessel, telling Reuters “we never comment on the movements of the yacht or any other vehicles or vessels”.
A representative of NIS Yachting, which acts as the Turkish agent for Eclipse — another superyacht linked to Abramovich that arrived in Turkey last week — confirmed it was also working with Solaris while denying any knowledge of who owned it.
A spokesperson for Abramovich declined to comment.
John Strange, a consultant in the marine and commercial litigation group at Penningtons Manches Cooper, said companies must approach the UK’s office of financial sanctions implementation if they were in any doubt over a possible sanctions breach, otherwise they would have “no mitigation at all”.
He said the onus was high on those seeking to do business with an individual who may be subject to sanctions to establish whether they would be breaching them.
Both Strange and Biltoo said a reasonable suspicion that a yacht belonged to a sanctions-hit individual would be enough to put a company at risk of violations if it provided services to it.
James Jaffa, founder of specialist superyacht law firm Jaffa & Co, said the penalty for violating sanctions could be a jail term for executives and a significant fine for a company.
Jaffa said he would be “astonished” if a UK-listed company welcomed vessels owned by individuals on a designated persons list, adding that it was possible the owner had transferred the ownership of the yacht to protect it from the risk of being seized.
“It may be that ownership was transferred quietly, to an individual who is not on the sanctions list, prior to the restrictions being imposed,” he added.
However, Benjamin Maltby, a partner at Keystone law, said he believed Global Ports Holding was “doing nothing wrong” because a recent ban on Russian vessels entering British ports did not apply outside the UK.
Global Ports Holding declined to comment.
The UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation both said they did not comment on specific businesses or assets.
Turkey, which is seeking to maintain its close ties with both Moscow and Kyiv, has said that it will not follow the US, UK and EU in imposing sanctions on Russian entities and individuals and argues that it enforces only UN-backed sanctions.
The Turkish transport ministry, which oversees the country’s ports, did not respond to a request for comment.
Additional reporting by Arash Massoudi and Laura Hughes in London