By Gemma Handy
British authorities have confirmed that two yachts currently moored in Falmouth Harbour are owned by sanctions-hit Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich.
UK investigative agencies have revealed the 55-year-old billionaire to be the beneficial owner of a BVI-domiciled firm called Wenham Overseas Ltd which in turn owns the vessels.
The news was leaked to Observer yesterday via a letter from Foreign Affairs Minister EP Chet Greene to British High Commissioner Scott Furssedonn-Wood acknowledging the UK’s help in determining the boats’ owner and pledging Antigua and Barbuda’s “full assistance”.
On Thursday, the 67-metre explorer vessel Garcon could be seen on Antigua’s south coast moored alongside the 55-metre luxury superyacht Halo.
Both boats were named earlier this week by the UK’s Financial Times as having links to Abramovich, who earlier this month was hit with sanctions by both the UK and the European Union in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The UK, EU and US all have evolving lists of elite individuals and companies deemed to have aided Vladimir Putin’s invasion of his Eastern European neighbour. In addition to the Chelsea Football Club owner, several other oligarchs are also subject to such measures which include asset freezes and travel bans.
A number of high-profile yachts, along with private jets and mansions, have subsequently been seized worldwide.
Sir Ronald Sanders, Antigua and Barbuda’s ambassador to the US, told Observer that the two vessels’ links to Abramovich were possibly leaked to the Financial Times through Antigua’s large, close-knit and transient yachting community.
“When the Financial Times came to us with the story, we said we will work with you but we can’t act on the basis of your story; we have to have hard evidence,” Sir Ronald said.
The matter was promptly added to ongoing talks between Sir Ronald and US authorities. While the US was able to confirm the yachts were owned by Wenham Overseas, “they could not pierce the veil of secrecy surrounding BVI companies,” the ambassador explained.
Unlike Antigua and Barbuda, companies domiciled in the BVI are not required to reveal their beneficial owners and the twin island nation had no legal basis to demand the information since no crime involving the company had been committed in Antigua and Barbuda’s jurisdiction.
As the BVI is a British territory, the UK’s assistance was requested via a letter sent Wednesday from Minister Greene to Resident British Commissioner Lindsy Thompson.
It said the Antigua and Barbuda government had been “active over the last three days in trying to establish if two particular ships could be owned by a certain Russian oligarch”.
It pointed out it would be helpful to both governments if Britain could ascertain and reveal to Antigua the name of Wenham’s beneficial owner – and, crucially, if the owner is named on Britain’s list of sanctioned people.
What happens now depends on the UK.
“We have no sanctions laws here; we can’t seize property unless someone has committed a crime in Antigua which they have not,” Sir Ronald continued.
“However we would wish to cooperate with the jurisdiction imposing the sanctions. The British would have to make a mutual legal assistance treaty request to Antigua for us to do anything.”
Once the official request is made, the matter can be taken to court and action initiated, the ambassador said.
Yesterday’s letter from Greene to Furssedonn-Wood confirmed the country stands ready to receive such a request.
Antigua and Barbuda has been vocal in condemning Russia’s action in Ukraine and quick to take steps to bolster that stance.
Sanctions lists from the US, UK and EU were obtained promptly and distributed to relevant parties nationwide.
“We gave the lists to all our agencies, banks, Coast Guard, shipping companies, everyone who does business, saying these are people Antigua and Barbuda would prefer not to do business with,” Sir Ronald said.
Anyone who falls foul – even inadvertently – risks becoming subject to sanctions themselves.
Consequently, all local banks of their own volition decided to do no business at all with any Russian or Belarusian, regardless of whether they were included in the sanctions or not.
“Going through every single person on the lists is expensive and the risk was not worth the reward,” Sir Ronald explained.
“We also announced very clearly we will be taking no Citizenship by Investment applications at all from Russians.
“Antigua and Barbuda has been at the forefront of objections to the invasion of Ukraine, and Russia’s violation of international law,” he added.
Resident British Commissioner Thompson confirmed to Observer she was providing consular help in the matter. A spokesman for London’s Foreign Office also said, “We are in contact with the authorities of Antigua and Barbuda and we are providing assistance.”
Thompson applauded the twin island nation’s no-nonsense stand towards the conflict in Europe.
“It’s incredibly important for all nations, regardless of the size of their population to put pressure on Russia,” she said.
“The horrific invasion and atrocities being committed by Russia have a profound effect on the whole world, whether it’s the cost of fuel, the cost of living, but also on each nation’s right to self-determination and this is a huge affront to that.”
She praised the country for “leading the pack” in the region to condemn Russia.
“Anything any country can do which allows the people of Ukraine to live in peace is the right thing to do,” Thompson added.