At sea with the FSO Navalny’s team links mysterious $700-million superyacht to Russian President Vladimir Putin
Working in exile, Alexey Navalny’s team of anti-corruption activists have released a new investigation linking a $700-million superyacht to Russian President Vladimir Putin. The luxury vessel, officially registered to an offshore company in the Marshall Islands, is allegedly crewed by members of Russia’s Secret Service (the FSO). Navalny’s team published the investigation on the eve of the Kremlin critic’s sentencing in yet another criminal trial. Navalny, who is currently serving more than 2.5 years in prison, could see his term extended to 13 years behind bars on new charges of fraud and contempt of court.
In their latest report, Alexey Navalny’s team of anti-corruption investigators claim to have linked a superyacht called the Scheherazade to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
At 140 meters (459 feet) in length, the Scheherazade is one of the biggest yachts in the world. It was launched in February 2020, and, according to Team Navalny, is currently docked at Marina di Carrara — a seaside resort in Tuscany, Italy. The website SuperYachtFan estimates the ship’s cost at $700 million (equivalent to 72.8 billion rubles at the Russian Central Bank’s exchange rate on March 21, 2022).
The yacht has six decks, with the main one housing six guest cabins, a formal dining room, a salon-spa, massage rooms, saunas, a gym, and equipment for diving and fishing, Navalny’s associates say. In early March, The New York Times reported that the Scheherazade has two helicopter decks, as well as “a swimming pool with a retractable cover that converts to a dance floor” and “gold-plated fixtures in the bathrooms.”
One of the upper decks houses a giant living room, dining room, two VIP cabins, and an electric grand piano, which, according to the crew, plays on its own. The deck also houses a billiard room, complete with a table equipped with a mechanism that prevents it from tilting as the ship rolls. The Scheherazade also boasts three fireplaces — one of which is wood burning. According to Navalny’s associates, a wood-burning fireplace is “highly rare even for superyachts.”
The owner’s deck is divided into two areas. “The first is the owner’s area, with his bedroom, a separate private spa room, a bathroom with a jacuzzi, a walk-in closet, and an office,” explains investigator Georgy Alburov in a YouTube video that accompanies the investigation. The second part of this deck is designated for the “owner’s companion,” he says, and “consists of a huge bedroom, a jacuzzi bathroom, and a walk-in closet.”
The Scheherazade is one of only 14 yachts in the world that are at least 140 meters (459 feet) long — and according to The New York Times, it’s the only superyacht of its kind whose owner isn’t publicly unknown. On paper, the ship belongs to an offshore company from the Marshall Islands. As the newspaper wrote earlier this month, this unusual circumstance has “spurred speculation” that the yacht’s owner “could be a Middle Eastern billionaire or a superconnected Russian — even Mr. Putin” (who, like many other Russian officials and billionaires, is now under an array of Western sanctions following the invasion of Ukraine).
Team Navalny was unable to uncover documentary evidence that the yacht belongs to Vladimir Putin. However, in the words of lead investigator Maria Pevchikh, they were able to find “better proof” linking the Scheherazade to Putin: allegedly, officers from Russia’s Secret Service — the Federal Protective Service (FSO), which is primarily tasked with guarding the Russian president — work on board the ship.
According to a crew list obtained by Team Navalny, 23 people work on board the yacht in total. The ship’s captain, Guy Bennet-Pearce, is apparently a British national; the rest of the crew are Russian citizens. Using the passport details of the crew members and leaked airtravel data, Navalny’s associates found that the people working on board the ship fly to Italy “as if on rotation.”
The investigation also found that contact information for the ship’s chief officer, Sergey Grishin, is saved in various people’s phones as “Sergey FSO.” In addition, Grishin’s registered address is in Sochi, where the FSO’s Caucasus branch is located. Some of the other crew members are also registered at the same address.
“On the first two pages of the crew list alone, we see 23 people, of which almost half have ties to the FSO. We can’t think of better proof that this yacht belongs to Putin. Even in Italy, thousands of kilometers from Moscow, people are working on it who are officially listed as Putin’s bodyguards and personal staff,” says lead investigator Maria Pevchikh in the video.
Speaking to The New York Times in early march, Captain Guy Bennet-Pearce denied that Putin owned or had ever set foot on board the Scheherazade: “I have never seen him. I have never met him.” The ship’s owner, the captain said, could be Russian, but was not on any sanctions list. Bennet-Pearce declined to disclose any further about the owner’s identity due to a “watertight nondisclosure agreement.”
Team Navalny has called for Scheherazade to be impounded, as well as for the release of documents to confirm who paid for the superyacht’s construction and maintenance.
Translation by Eilish Hart