Russian tycoon suing UK government for return of £38m superyacht

A Russian tycoon is suing the UK government over the seizure of his £38m superyacht in London shortly after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year.

Sergei Georgievich Naumenko, a property developer who is not on the UK’s Russia sanctions list, has filed a high court claim against the Department for Transport (DfT) demanding it free his 58.5-metre (192ft) long superyacht Phi and pay damages.

The seizure of the vessel in March 2022 was announced by the then transport secretary, Grant Shapps, who said impounding it had “turned an icon of Russia’s power and wealth into a clear and stark warning to [Vladimir] Putin and his cronies”.

“Detaining the Phi proves, yet again, that we can and will take the strongest possible action against those seeking to benefit from connections to Putin’s regime,” Shapps added.

Officers from the National Crime Agency boarded the vessel in March 2022 in Canary Wharf, where it has remained detained ever since.

A member of the crew cleans the bow of the PHI superyacht.
A member of the crew cleans the bow of the PHI superyacht. Photograph: Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images

At the time, the government said the law used to detain the vessel did not require proof or suspicion the owner was closely tied to the Putin regime, merely that they were a Russian national.

The vessel had been in London for a World Superyacht awards judging panel event, which was held at the five-star Bulgari hotel in Knightsbridge.

A judge has overseen a preliminary high court hearing and heard arguments from lawyers representing Naumenko and the transport secretary, Mark Harper.

In a preliminary hearing Mr Justice Chamberlain said: “Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the National Crime Agency and Border Force maritime intelligence bureau investigated vessels with connections to Russia. The Phi was identified as a vessel of interest.

“On 28 March 2022, the then secretary of state, the Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP, exercised powers … to detain the Phi, on the grounds that it was owned, controlled or operated by a person connected with Russia.” Chamberlain said a “substantive hearing” to decide the fate of the yacht would take place in July.

A spokesperson for the DfT said the department would not comment on active legal proceedings.

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The seizure of the yacht came as the UK government was under pressure to take more definitive actions against wealthy Russians. The US and European governments have detained dozens of superyachts owned by high-profile Russian oligarchs who are under sanctions. The total value of seized superyachts is thought to now exceed $4bn (£3.2bn).

The Phi is the third biggest yacht built by the shipbuilders Royal Huisman and includes what the builders call an “infinite wine cellar” and patented fresh-water swimming pool.

Guy Booth, a New Zealander based in Brighton, is the captain of Phi and has posted several pictures of the vessel on his Instagram feed.

Booth, an experienced superyacht mariner, was appointed as “owner’s representative” and “build captain” to oversee the construction of the yacht in 2019, according to his LinkedIn profile. He did not respond to requests for comment on the identity of the owner.

Booth has previously said the owner proposed “thousands of crazy ideas” for what he wanted from the yacht, including a “penthouse” apartment on the upper deck.

The Guardian