Italian tax police try to track down alleged ‘Putin’s ship’

The “Schéhérazade”, in the Italian port of Marina di Carrara, on March 14, 2022.

It is white like the blocks of marble that are quarried from the mountain a few kilometers away. In the Tuscan port of Marina di Carrara, the huge yacht Scheherazade has for several days been the focus of all attention in Italy. And for good reason: its owner would be none other than Vladimir Poutine. Built in Germany and launched in 2020, the luxury ship is all excess: 140 meters long, six decks, two helicopter pads, a swimming pool whose retractable roof turns into a dance floor, a gymnasium or even a movie theatre. The interior is not to be outdone, with its gilding right down to the toilet roll holders. Flying the flag of the Cayman Islands, little known for their fiscal transparency, the Scheherazade is estimated at at least 700 million dollars (640 million euros).

If, for the time being, no formal proof directly links the ship to the Russian president, a bundle of clues is disturbing to say the least. In early March, an investigation by the New York Times revealed that part of the crew had renamed the Scheherazade the “Putin’s ship”. A member of the flight attendant, on condition of anonymity, pointed out that the crew was entirely Russian “when the boss was on board”, and became international again in his absence. the Scheherazade also made several round trips to the Black Sea during the summers of 2020 and 2021, in the vicinity of Sochi, where Vladimir Putin spent long weeks during the Covid-19 pandemic.

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On March 22, a video released by Alexei Navalny’s foundation made the hypothesis linking the yacht to Vladimir Putin even more credible. The anti-corruption NGO notably obtained the list of crew members of the Scheherazade : Russians, at least half of whom belong to the FSO, the federal protection service, responsible in particular for ensuring the close security of the Russian president. According to the foundation of Alexei Navalny, ” the Scheherazade is the largest boat in the world whose owner is not known”, but, she says, “If a property really belongs to Putin, it doesn’t matter whose name it is registered, but who manages it”.

Obscure public limited company

According to the SuperYacht Fan site, which lists luxury ships, the Scheherazade would belong to the oligarch Edouard Khudainatov, former vice-president of the oil company Rosneft, a close associate of the Kremlin. The ship is registered under the name of an obscure limited company, Beilor Asset Ltd, domiciled in the Marshall Islands, another tax haven. But doubts remain.

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