By Elesha George
The government says it is open to negotiations with the second highest bidder for the Alfa Nero superyacht – but not under a legal dispute.
“The government of Antigua and Barbuda is willing to negotiate with Mr Halle but it will be on different terms … and those terms have not yet been fully determined,” Lionel Hurst, Chief of Staff in the Prime Minister’s Office, remarked during Friday’s post-Cabinet press briefing.
In July, Warren Halle, a US real estate entrepreneur, filed a lawsuit against the government, alleging that he had been unfairly denied the right to acquire the Alfa Nero vessel. Under the agreement of the June auction, Halle should have acquired the boat after the seven-day deadline passed for the winning bidder to send the funds.
Halle’s lawsuit seeks USD$5,683,000 in damages for breach of contract and outstanding payments related to his attempt to secure the yacht.
Hurst asserted that the government views certain claims made in Halle’s lawsuit as “unjustified.” However, he refrained from providing further details, emphasising that discussing the matter in public could potentially harm their legal position.
He stated, “the less said the better”, saying that the government’s pronouncements on the matter in the past have been used against it to support “more than one court case”.
Even with litigations hanging over its head, the government is insistent on selling the former Russian-owned vessel promptly.
“We want to get rid of the Alfa Nero as quickly as possible and we want to ensure that all the liabilities it incurred since being moored here in Antigua and Barbuda can be addressed by the sale price, and that some leftovers for the difficulties faced by Antigua and Barbuda will be forthcoming,” Hurst explained.
One pressing concern has been the safety of the Alfa Nero should Antigua experience a severe storm, particularly as September is considered the peak hurricane month. Hurst, however, claimed that the vessel’s current mooring location at Falmouth Harbour is secure.
“Falmouth Harbour has 24-hour watch, and it’s in nobody’s way. Moreover, it can refuel at Falmouth Harbour, which is a very important part of why it is there,” he explained.
“We have no idea what some of the evil plans are of some of the people who may have come to the conclusion that they lost their $100 million vessel as a consequence of no bad action on their part, and therefore what kinds of resources they might plough into receiving it unlawfully,” he added.
Additionally, the government has been bearing the cost of maintaining the Alfa Nero and paying the wages of the crew on board.
Nevertheless, as the vessel remains moored for an extended period, concerns about its gradual deterioration persist.
Last Thursday, Port Manager Darwin Telemaque disclosed that the Alfa Nero had undergone a short sea trial following repairs carried out. Telemaque said the captain was conducting tests to assess the vessel’s mobility in preparation for adverse weather conditions, which are not currently a threat.
Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt submitted the winning bid for the vessel in the June 16 auction, offering US$67.6 million. He later withdrew the bid due to ongoing legal delays.
Halle had submitted a slightly lower bid of US$66 million.
The Alfa Nero was acquired by the government in April, after being abandoned in the country’s waters for more than a year. The government currently bears the expenses related to the vessel, including fuel and crew members’ salaries, at a cost of US$28,000 per week.
Meanwhile, the sale continues to be contested in court, with Yulia Guryeva-Motlokhov claiming to be the yacht’s rightful owner. Guryeva-Motlokhov, the daughter of sanctioned Russian oligarch Andrey Guryev, asserts ownership through a trust that holds a 100 percent share in the BVI-based firm, Flying Dutchman Limited.