Russia superyacht Alfa Nero symbolises challenge of seizing assets (BBC)


When BBC reporters investigated the case of the £54m Alfa Nero, it led them to a British firm whose lawful help allows a Russian oligarch to claim that such mega-assets do not really belong to him at all.

This week a court case resumes in Antigua. It was launched by the daughter of Russian billionaire Andrey Guryev to challenge the seizure of the Alfa Nero superyacht.

The island’s government wants to sell the vessel and keep the proceeds. It even changed the law ahead of auctioning the yacht off last June.

It was eventually purchased by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt for £54m, but he has now withdrawn his bid amid a flurry of legal challenges, including the one from Mr Guryev’s daughter.

She claims she is the sole adult beneficiary of the trust that owns the yacht, rather than her billionaire father.

Investigating that challenge led the BBC to uncover some £500m worth of assets connected to the sanctioned billionaire.

It also helped reveal how trust structures lawfully managed by a British firm over many years allow Mr Guryev to claim, by the time he was sanctioned, that the yachts and London properties we have identified do not belong to him at all.

The Kremlin connection

On a tour in Antigua’s exclusive Falmouth Harbour, a port employee is open to talking about the Alfa Nero’s many features, but when we ask who used to own it, his tone changes.

“I don’t know,” he says, as he looks down at the gleaming, teak deck.

Before the yacht was seized in April, the US government said it belonged to Mr Guryev, whom it called a “known close associate” of Vladimir Putin.

The US Treasury says Mr Guryev is part of a group of “Kremlin-connected elites” who “generate substantial revenue for the Russian regime”.

Mr Guryev earned his wealth from PhosAgro, a fertiliser company he co-founded following the collapse of the Soviet Union.


Andrey Guryev (left) is pictured with Vladimir Putin at an event in 2020
(IMAGE SOURCE,GETTY IMAGES) The US describes Andrey Guryev (left) as a “known close associate” of Vladimir Putin


By the time PhosAgro listed on the London Stock Exchange in 2011, Mr Guryev had bought Witanhurst Estate, a dilapidated Georgian mansion he transformed into one of London’s most expensive properties, estimated to be worth £300m.

Companies House filings submitted in May 2023 show Witanhurst Estate, along with the Alfa Nero, is actually connected to the Guryev family through an address in Guernsey, a British crown dependency.

And they are not the only incredibly valuable assets linked to this same address in the Channel Islands.

The Luminosity is one of the world’s biggest hybrid superyachts, measuring in at 353ft (107.5m). It has its own helipad plus a separate swimming pool and jacuzzi, along with dozens of staff.

Shortly after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began, the Luminosity left port in northern Italy, arriving in non-EU Montenegro on 10 March.

That was the day after Mr Guryev’s son was sanctioned by the EU.

When a government inspector boarded, they discovered that this huge vessel was also linked to the same address in Guernsey.

‘Not our client’

When you travel to that address, you find the unassuming offices of a wealth manager called Opus Private.

On its website, the firm said it helped “some of the world’s wealthiest individuals manage and protect their assets”.

Along with a number of other properties, including a £50m London penthouse, we established a total Guryev family portfolio worth over £500m, all linked to this one firm.

We have also seen documents showing the relationship has been going on for at least a decade.

Back in Antigua, that relationship with at least some members of the Guryev family continues.

Court documents we have seen show Opus Private was involved in a legal action that failed to stop the Alfa Nero initially being auctioned off.

It is important to note that it is legal to keep working for a sanctioned individual, with government permission, and Mr Guryev’s daughter has not been sanctioned by the UK, EU or US.

The court documents detail how ownership of the superyacht is tied up in a trust, which a judge in Antigua suggested Mr Guryev still exercised a degree of control over.

We know there has been a change in the beneficiaries of the trust, but we cannot independently determine when it happened. If it was after sanctions were imposed, it would be unlawful; if it was before, it would not.

Both Mr Guryev’s daughter and Opus told us it happened before her father was sanctioned.

Opus also insisted that Mr Guryev was not their client as he was no longer a beneficiary of the trust.

But the firm says it has made UK and Guernsey authorities aware of the trust assets it treats as frozen in line with UK sanctions against Mr Guryev. It says it treats these assets as frozen because, while Mr Guryev is not a beneficiary of the trust, he is deemed to have “control” over it under UK sanctions law.

A very different approach in Ukraine

These assets are being watched closely in Ukraine, where the cost of war damage is estimated at more than £300bn, and rising.

“We’ve been quite intensively confiscating assets belonging to Russian individuals,” says Vlad Vlasiuk, a sanctions adviser to Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky.

Not only has Ukraine sanctioned around 9,000 people and companies, it has gone further than most of its allies in moving from freezing to seizing assets. Among those sanctioned by Ukraine are Mr Guryev, his son, wife and daughter.

“We think that Mr Putin is weaponising the fertiliser [industry] and threatening the whole of the world in terms of global food security. We don’t want that to happen,” Mr Vlasiuk says.

Since the sanctions were imposed, Guryev Snr and Jnr have both resigned their positions at PhosAgro, but the family remains major shareholders.

The company – which operates globally – has made record sales since the invasion, and Guryev Jnr even met President Putin in April to discuss the fertiliser industry.


An aerial view of the Witanhurst Estate in north London
Mr Guryev bought Witanhurst Estate and transformed it into one of London’s most expensive properties

Mr Vlasyiuk would like to see the UK go further when it comes to frozen assets linked to Mr Guryev: “I think those assets should be confiscated and then transferred to Ukraine.”

They include the Witanhurst Estate and a five-storey penthouse with views across the River Thames, estimated to be worth £50m.

“Those monies would be very much used to rebuild Ukraine and that would also send a strong message,” he says.

The UK government’s position is to hold on to frozen assets until Russia pays compensation for the war damage it has caused in Ukraine.

The two departments responsible for sanctions, the Treasury and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, did not respond to specific questions about the Guryev family’s UK-based assets.

A spokesman for Mr Guryev said there was no “proper or legitimate basis” for the sanctions against him.

Opus Private told us: “Trusts are legal structures, and their use is lawful. Opus provides trust services to, and for the benefit of, the discretionary beneficiaries of the trust structure.”

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  1. Look at how two BBC reporters can travel to Antigua and find out all the ins and outs, and what’s going on with the Alpha Nero saga; and yet Antiguans who living here have to rely on guesswork and hearsay.

    I’ve learnt a lot more of what’s really going on than our government really wanted us to know. Go figure folks!

    • @Brixtonian September 20, 2023 At 2:36 pm
      Brix, we need to give you a new name. Dumb dumb. You remind me of the character in Paul Keens Douglas jokes.
      The BBC reporters show up the so-called Antiguan reporters what “Investigative Journalism” is all about. They have followed the trail all over the world. Antiguan reporters stay here at home and want to write a story from the comfort of their home. One calling herself Nicky Phenix, says she is an investigative journalist and when you ask her where she got her information from, she said she called so and so. The BBC journalist came here and interviewed people. And went to several links, before putting pen to paper to write their story.
      I really hope one day the standard of journalism will be elevated in this fair land of ours.

  2. It’s interesting that this lady has claimed this super yacht after the sanctions were lifted. The sanctions were lifted by the US Government at the request of the Government of Antigua. If this lady is allowed to claim that boat by whatever means, the United States may put back on the sanctions and the saga starts once again maybe in a different location?
    Yes there are many factors to consider but the prevailing thought process amongst opponents of this Administration seems to be “gnashing of teeth and wailing”.

  3. And in the mean time, Max Fernandes is having private parties on Alfa Nero!!! And the captain; who is paid by the goverment (meaning us), is inviting his friends over for parties, swimming pool, going round the island on one of the dingy

  4. I am sure that Mr Halle still has interest in the vessel and he is now aware of governments desperation to sell it. It puts him in a much stronger position which I an sure he will use to his advantage. . He would also be very mindful of the reason why the alleged highest bidder is no longer interested in purchasing the vessel. Whilst Mr Halle might drop his suit against the AG and the government in a bid to continue negotiations, he is fully aware that the ownership of the vessel is still in limbo with no less than 2 other legal suits pending and just like Mr Eric Schmidt, getting possession of the vessel is impossible until all these legal issues are resolved. My gut feeling tells me that this saga is a long way from over.
    I would also caution the government to be mindful of these Russians as we all know what they are capable of. Ask Yevgeny Prigozhin’s family. Russians are also the greatest at cyber warfare. We do not want to cross them.

    Beware of the Russians as you travel overseas.
    Grabston is upset with Schmidt, and he is alleging that Halle is a liar.
    However, he still believe that he can convince Halle to buy Alfa Nargo.
    Don’t be surprised if he ends up with that yacht paid for by Antiguans. The third highest bidder.
    The saga continues.

  6. This is what happens when a poodle picks a fight with a pit bull. Once Gaston keeps his mouth shut it mean he conceded. This will not end well. It take YIDA 10 years to show us who they are. But time is always longer than twine.

  7. Fool rush in where wise men doth not thread. With greed and capricious avarice intent: The elated syncopated elites of Governance; rush head on like Lemmings to the clif, to claim of fame, and victors of the spoil of war’s I’ll gotten gain; as if like manna from the sky, and without a comprehensive vetting of the inevitable encumbered ownership of the ugly sanctioned behemoth: in a mission of greed, rife with the futility of ineptitude. Instead of letting the “sanctioning entity” pay the Governance for the stay of sanction abandonment in Falmouth Harbor, and for the release back to the sanctioned enforcers: They enacted convenience law to facilitate a steal of maritime assets, that is not of imminent domain; for auction to high-end bidders with international octopus tentacle connections. My intrepid invocation to the Governance was to just scuttle the Behemoth down at Cades Reef as an extension of the reef for diving excursions and, as a enhancement to the tourism product to dive the (Alpha Nero) within the National Park auspices: with exclusive license rights for diving excursions to local diving entrepreneurs, after opening up the vessel for six months for paid tour to interested Antiguans. If a fu arwe yah subben e be. Nah! Anything good in Antigua 🇦🇬 Barbuda: is too good fu arwe yah, eh! The Damn Sell Off Governance, Create A Quick Sand Myer Carpet For The People To Stand On. Ah! A Governance Of Convenience: As So, It Seems.

  8. Many of you’ll are fools and don’t even have a clue as to what the author said or what’s happening here.

    This simple means if sanctions were put on this Russian, then it was put on by UKRAINE, so all proceeds from any assets seized should go to Ukraine who is actually fighting a war with Russia, not go to Antigua. So Antigua should have not gotten involved with this in the first place, and they should have left the legal battle to Ukraine who are actually watching these friends of Putin.

    What the hell Antigua government knows about international sanctions? They should have just let Ukraine deal with it, then work out the cost and fees with the Ukraine government to get compensated, not try to sell the boat and put the money in their pockets.
    And even if the US lift the sanctions, what should have been done is to allow the man to come get his boat and charge his for cost incurred.

    Any how you put the two things, Antigua Government has no right to be cutting deals behind people’s back and trying to get rich off the backs of others..wrong wrong wrong. Antigua is not at war with anyone, dumb greedy arse Government we have here.

    Bwoi a tell you, Antigua has a long road ahead with this dumb greedy messy arse Government.

  9. As I’ve said from the very beginning: nothing good will come out of stealing somebody else’s property. Our government received a green light from US and EU to take what’s not theirs. No matter how they’ve been trying to justify it, it’s still a daylight robbery. Just imagine tomorrow US and Europe will sanction China. So you think it gives you the right to steal from them too? And what if tomorrow US and Europe decide to sanction Antigua and Barbuda for whatever reason? Will you applaud a confiscation of our properties around the world, just because US decide it?
    Fellow Antiguans, you’re now discussing petty details, but look at the bigger picture: Americans are making us accomplices in their crimes. Our government were so happy to become the pirates of the Caribbean again with the US permit. But fell into trap because being an accomplice doesn’t mean one can do the same as the boss criminal.
    Mark Twaine once wrote about the speech at an banquet in 1906 when a chairman honestly and proudly said: “We are of the Anglo-Saxon race, and when the Anglo-Saxon wants a thing he just takes it.” In plain English: “The English and the Americans are thieves, highwaymen, pirates, and we are proud to be of the combination.” Nothing has changed since that time.
    So I believe we should not join the gang, but go our own way. Nothing good comes out of stealing, no matter how attractive it could look to some.

  10. Most of what we know about the Alfa Nero and its challenges have been forced on us through the government media. So those who claim botched journalism on the issue, should be castigating ABS and its imported mercenary who has to get his assignments approved by a government minister.

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