Sanctioned Russian wins partial victory in French yacht case

Sanctioned Russian Alexey Kuzmichev has won a partial victory in a continuing legal action against French customs authorities. French judges decided last week that the raid on one of his two yachts was unlawful.

Kuzmichev’s legal representatives have argued that French customs officials did not have the legal right to detain the vessels, despite the fact that Kuzmichev is on the EU sanctions list.

On March 16th, less than a month after Russia invaded Ukraine in February, France froze the 24-metre La Petite Ourse, worth an estimated $4.5m, which was moored in Antibes. The 16-metre La Petite Ourse II, worth an estimated $1.2m, was frozen in nearby Canes a week later. Subsequent to the detentions, both yachts were impounded on June 6th.

On Wednesday October 5th the Paris court of appeals criticized what it described as “serious errors” made by customs officials during the surprise inspection of La Petite Ourse. It said that the raid in mid-March was “irregular”.

Judge Elisabeth Ienne-Berthelot noted that the customs’ raid report failed to mention that the captain “was informed of his right to oppose the search or any reference to any sanctions-evasion fraud” – and that this should have been the underlying reason for boarding the vessel. Ienne-Berthelot also noted that customs officials failed to indicate in the report the relevant jurisdiction to contest the raid.

Kuzmichev’s lawyers have argued that the banker should have access to his yacht for the same reason that he has the right to use other frozen assets, such as cars and mansions. He cannot sell or rent them out, but he is not barred from using them.

Shortly before he was sanctioned, Kuzmichev sold his stake in Alfa-Bank and resigned from the board of a large holding company with Western interests, LetterOne. He also listed for sale a four-storey mansion in New York City, valued at $41m.

Kuzmichev’s lawyer Philippe Blanchetier said that the court’s decision “enshrines the primacy of the law” and described the search operation as an “improvization dictated by obscure political considerations.”

However, a customs official reportedly told a September hearing that — under Judges also ruled on October 5th that a second lawsuit regarding La Petite Ourse II had been filed in the incorrect court. No decision has been reached and will be assessed in a court of appeals.