A Russian oligarch's mega-yacht seized by the United States government in Spain visited Auckland and its owner has been added to this country's list of sanctioned individuals linked to Vladimir Putin.
Viktor Vekselberg's giant boat Tango spent time in New Zealand waters in 2017-18 and on Monday he was among 36 individuals added to a list of 100 who will not be able to travel to New Zealand, move assets here, or use financial systems to hide from sanctions imposed by other countries.
Vekselberg, 64, is a Ukrainian-born aluminium baron who made his first million selling scrap copper from worn-out cables and has a fortune estimated at US$5.7 billion ($8.2b) although about a quarter of that is reported frozen in US and Swiss banks.
Cook Islands-flagged Tango boasts a contra-flow swimming pool, a massage/beauty saloon and a spacious sun deck with an outdoor cinema. The $140 million vessel is just under 80m long, and has accommodation for up to 14 guests in seven cabins, including the master suite. It has accommodation for 20 crew on board.
Another oligarch who spent part of a summer in New Zealand with his wife and is said to have enjoyed the quiet life here, Andrey Melnichenko, has also had one of his boats seized.
The fertiliser and coal magnate's 143m SY A or Sailing Yacht A is valued at over $800m and was seized in Italy last month.
It is the biggest sailing yacht in the world.
Sky News in Britain quoted a statement from the Official Journal of the European Union which described Melnichenko as belonging to the "most influential circle of Russian businesspeople with close connections to the Russian Government".
It added: "On 24 February 2022, in the aftermath of the initial stages of Russian aggression against Ukraine, Andrey Igorevich Melnichenko, along with other 36 businesspeople, met with President Vladimir Putin and other members of the Russian government to discuss the impact of the course of action in the wake of Western sanctions.
Sky News reported a spokesman for Melnichenko as saying the businessman had "no relation to the tragic events in Ukraine and has no political affiliations" and there was no justification whatsoever for placing him on the EU sanctions list.
Melnichenko doesn't appear on New Zealand's updated sanctions list.
He brought his other vessel, Motoryacht A (MYA), to Auckland for maintenance and while here with his wife, Serbian model and ex-pop singer Aleksandra, travelled throughout the country, apparently enjoying the anonymity away from European superyacht hotspots.
Both his boats were designed by Philippe Starck and MY A, at 119m, features many mirrored rooms and one guest suite is lined with white stingray skins. One report has had the vessel at Dubai, - a favoured bolthole for the Russian elite - and a ship-tracking site shows its last position off the coast of neighbouring Oman.
Vekselberg's Tango was seized by Spain's Civil Guard and US federal agents descended on Monday at the Marina Real in the port of Palma de Mallorca, the capital of Spain's Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean Sea.
The US had issued a seizure warrant for Tango, alleging it "was subject to forfeiture based on violation of US bank fraud, money laundering, and sanction statutes," the US Department of Justice said in a statement.
The Associated Press reports documents tied to the US investigation allege that Vekselberg bought the Tango in 2011 and used shell companies to hide his interest in the vessel. Vekselberg, who had been sanctioned by the US in 2018, used US banks to make payments related to the Tango in violation of those sanctions, the department said.
US Attorney General Merrick Garland said it was the first seizure by the US of an asset belonging to a Russian sanctioned individual and "will not be the last".
Vekselberg, a billionaire and close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, heads the Moscow-based Renova Group, a conglomerate encompassing metals, mining, tech and other assets, according to US Treasury Department documents.
Vekselberg has long had ties to the US, including a green card he once held and homes in New York and Connecticut.
He has also been sanctioned by authorities in Britain.
In 2004, Vekselberg reportedly paid $100m for nine jewelled Faberge Imperial Easter eggs given by tsars to family members so they could be returned to Russia, This apparently put him in Putin's good books.
It is estimated Russians own about 10 per cent of the world's superyacht fleet and owners aligned to the Putin regime have scrambled to get them to safe havens to avoid seizure