Russian yacht Scheherazade is moored in the port of Marina of Carrara in central Italy on March 23. Italy has seized the $700 million superyacht which has allegedly been tied to Russian President Vladimir Putin. File Photo by Fabio Muzzi/EPA-EFE
May 6 (UPI) -- Italy has seized a $700 million superyacht named Scheherazade that has allegedly been tied to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Daniele Franco, Italy's minister of commerce and finance, signed a decree blocking the boat from leaving port because of the "presence of significant economic and business links" with "prominent elements of the Russian government" and others under European Union sanctions.
The ministry said that the Scheherazade had "long been under the attention of the authorities" said confirmed that the seizure was made in connection with Russia's actions "undermining or threatening the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine."
Officials in the United States told The New York Times that Putin was the "prominent element" referred to by Italian authorities.
A team of investigators from the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK), a Moscow nonprofit established by Alexei Navalny, has also reported that the yacht belongs to Putin.
Navalny is an opposition politician in Russia who has been imprisoned since January 2021. The FBK was branded an extremist organization by a Moscow court in June 2021 and officially liquidated.
Maria Pevchikh, head of the FBK investigation team, tweeted in March that "the rumor is it belongs to Vladimir Putin" but admitted "there is not much proof."
"How do you prove that something belongs to Vladimir Putin, the most secretive and rich man on the planet? We've been investigating Putin's corruption for over a decade. And there is one thing we know for sure. Putin never keeps assets under his own name," Pevchikh said.
Pevchikh published a complete list of the crew of the Scheherazade which "almost entirely" consists of Russians who work for the Federal Protective Service -- an agency like the U.S. Secret Service which provides for Putin's security.
"A dozen of Vladimir Putin's personal guards and servants are constantly maintaining one of the world's largest yachts docked in an Italian port," Pevchikh said.
She said that, like The New York Times, workers on the yacht had confirmed that it belongs to Putin.
"We think that this is a solid enough proof that Scheherazade belongs to Putin himself and must be immediately seized," Pevchikh said.
Italian police had boarded the Scheherazade in early March as after the EU announced the sanctions and a police source told The Guardian that "it's not been easy" to identify an owner.
"There is no more information we can give, and asking if it belongs to Putin is like a lottery," the source said.
The Scheherazade, which is in a dry dock at the Marina di Carrara where it has been undergoing repairs on the coast of Tuscany, had shown signs of getting ready to sail this week, The New York Times reported. The 459-foot yacht is flagged with the Cayman Islands.
In April, theUnited States accused Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg of bank fraud as his $90 million yacht was seized in Spain after he had been hit with Treasury Department sanctions in 2018 related to sanctions the U.S. had imposed on Russia in 2014 for annexing Crimea from Ukraine.
Before the invasion began in February, Ukraine and Russia had been engaged in ongoing disputes and conflict since the latter absorbed Crimea within its borders in 2014 and over the possibility of Ukraine joining NATO.