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Seize the Yacht

Carpe Diem – seize the day – was a famous epigram of the Roman poet Horace. Carpe navem seems to be the order of the day for the Rich Russians with Yachts. Seize the yacht.

As any lawyer will tell you,  there is a substantial difference between seizing and freezing a yacht, both legally and financially. Any disgruntled crew member owed wages can apply to a local magistrate to seize a yacht, but that means the costs of the yacht – maintenance, wages, berthing et al- come to the plaintiff. A seizure also means that there is a burden of proof on the plaintiff. There is a right of appeal.

Not so freezing an asset which is extra juridical and replies on suspicion of illegal provenance, which in the case of yachts is proximity to power and Putin. When assets and bank accounts are frozen, there is no immediate right of appeal. It is political and in the case of yachts populist. No account is made for the maintenance and berthing of the yachts, the crew, and the suppliers. Or fairness.

Forbes reported that the company that employs the crew of 96 people on Usmanov’s superyacht informed the crew by email that “normal operation of the yacht has ceased” and the company can no longer pay them. German authorities clarified that the yacht was not seized, but was covered by export control sanctions, meaning that it will not be able to leave Germany without special permission – a legal sleight of hand.

Stepping to one side, a protracted case of freezing assets involved a young black boy who made a quarter of a million through bitcoin and smart trading. The authorities froze his bank account on the grounds that he did not seem the type to have earned a quarter of a mil legally. They also took his laptop which he needed to prove that he had been trading legally and was just very, very good at it. Two years later, a judge ordered his laptop be returned, and it took another three years for the bank account to be unfrozen. Five years in all. They got it wrong. In the freezing of assets, the need to be seen to be doing something and a  moral imperative trumps fairness and common sense.

Governments, local authorities, lobbying groups, companies, lawyers, all over Europe, from London to Sardinia, have been fawning over Russian yacht owners for years. Now they treat them worse than the shit on their shoes, freezing yachts and often seizing assets with scant legal regard. Not that we are advocating sympathy for these guys, because their ostentatious display of wealth has equally scant regard for the underclasses. However, how much of this is just virtue signalling?

Yachts are highly visible assets to freeze and make good headlines. Banking assets are opaque and subject to legal and expensive challenges. It is estimated that only 1% of Russian wealth has been affected.

Carpe navem today, and as for the rest, let’s pro cras – see what tomorrow brings.

More about Roman Yachts here.


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