Italian police are racing to identify the owner of a superyacht linked to Vladimir Putin amid concerns it may be about to flee a shipyard in Tuscany.
The Scheherazade, said to be worth $700m (£528m), has been under investigation since March for potential links to sanctioned Russians, including the president.
A spokesperson for the Italian Sea Group, a company that repairs and builds luxury yachts, said the vessel, which has been undergoing a refit at its shipyard in Marina di Carrara since September, was scheduled to set sail by the middle of June.
However, there are concerns the Scheherazade may be preparing to leave the boatyard, after a New York Times report that it had been moved out of dry dock and into the water on Tuesday. The newspaper cited a crew member who said it could leave the port imminently.
Marianna Ferrante, the company’s marketing director, said: “Maintenance work is progressing and there are no scheduled departures anytime soon.”
The company originally said the €6m refit would be completed in early 2023. The yacht is said to be equipped with a spa, swimming pools, two helipads, a wood-burning fireplace and a pool table designed to tilt so as to reduce the impact of the waves.
Finance police in Marina di Carrara boarded the Scheherazade in early March as EU sanctions against Russian oligarchs kicked in over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. They seized ownership documents from the yacht’s British captain, Guy Bennett-Pearce. At the time, US officials said they were also investigating whether the yacht belonged to Putin. Activists working with the jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny have also claimed Putin is the owner.
The vessel has not been seized, and until its owner is identified and if necessary placed under sanctions, the ship is free to leave Marina di Carrara.
A source at the finance police said the investigation was “very complex” owing to a web of company names that could be concealing the real owner.
“As you can imagine, after all this time, it’s not been easy [to identify] an owner, because of all the companies in between,” the source said. “There is no more information we can give, and asking if it belongs to Putin is like a lottery.” The source would not confirm whether or not police were preparing to seize the vessel.
An investigation by La Stampa newspaper in March linked the Scheherazade to Eduard Yurievich Khudainatov, the former president of the Russian state oil firm Rosneft, via a shell company registered in the Marshall Islands. Khudainatov is not on the sanctions list.