The U.S. Justice Department’s mission to seize Russian megayachts has an air of glamor rarely found in the world of sanctions enforcement, but the capture of the yacht Amadea at Fiji appears to be the most glamorous yet.
At the Aspen Security Forum on Wednesday, U.S. deputy attorney general Lisa Monaco – the second-in-command at DOJ – told attendees that a yacht seized in Fiji and recently delivered to San Diego turned out to have a special surprise on board. She did not name Amadea specifically, but it is the only yacht fitting that description.
“Let’s get to the juicy stuff: the yachts,” she said. “We recovered a Fabergé – or alleged Fabergé egg – on one of these so it just gets more and more interesting.”
The Fabergé eggs are a series of intricate, handmade jeweled boxes and “surprises” produced primarily for the Romanov family in the waning years of the Tsardom of Russia. From 1885-1917, the year of the Bolshevik revolution, the jewelers of the House of Fabergé made a series of 52 unique eggs for Tsars Alexander III and Nicholas II. Another 17 were produced for other customers. Today, a total of 57 eggs are known to survive in museum collections, government ownership or private hands.
Fabergé eggs trade for amounts in the range of $12-20 million – well within the means of the Amadea’s alleged owner, sanctioned Russian oligarch Suleiman Kerimov, a billionaire with ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Kerimov is not a listed owner of Fabergé eggs, but may be among the small number of undisclosed private owners who hold a handful of these artifacts.
Further high-value art seizures might be ahead as the DOJ’s “Project Klepto-Capture” continues. Oligarch Viktor Vekselberg owns more than 20 Fabergé eggs, along with about 1,000 other items made by the House of Fabergé; his yacht was seized in Mallorca, Spain in early April.
The U.S. hopes to auction the seized assets of sanctioned Russian oligarchs and forfeit the proceeds. The Justice Department has asked Congress to create the legal authority to donate the funds to Ukraine for purposes of repairing damages caused by the Russian invasion; it has also sought legislation extending the statute of limitations for certain financial crimes in order to enable a long-term pursuit of sanctioned Russian assets.