It is because of President Roosevelt that the FBI can not only operate overseas but also seize and take over Russian superyachts in foreign countries.


With the Russia-Ukraine war began a carousal of sanctions from the E.U., U.K., and U.S. Every round of sanctions brought up new names of Russian billionaires and their stunning superyachts. What also cropped up occasionally was the mention of the FBI, i.e., The Federal Bureau of Investigation, a ‘domestic’ intelligence and security service of the United States. For most yacht connoisseurs and enthusiasts following the fates of the impounded vessels, the word domestic stood out regarding the FBI. Why, then was this domestic law enforcement agency of The United States involved in seizing megayachts outside its jurisdiction? Well, The FBI has been overseas for decades now and here is how it all came into being.

FBI legal attache in Paris

It all started with President Roosevelt –
Back in 1940, a year before the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D Roosevelt felt that there was a dire need for better intelligence to counter the threat of Axis powers. This was the time when there was no CIA and thus FDR assigned intelligence responsibilities to various agencies. The FBI was responsible not just for the homeland but the entire western hemisphere. To quickly gather and exchange information, the FBI realized there was a need to establish liaisons with the countries it was working for. Thus was born FBI’s legal attaché program which continues to be managed by the International Operations Division from the bureau’s Washington DC office.

Franklin D. Roosevelt

As per FBI, “The FBI legal attaché works with the law enforcement and security agencies in their host country to coordinate investigations of interest to both countries. The role of legal attachés is primarily one of coordination, as they do not conduct foreign intelligence gathering or counterintelligence investigations. The rules for joint activities and information sharing are generally spelled out in formal agreements between the U.S. and the host nation.”

FBI legal attaché in Paris (1946). Image – FBI

As of now the FBI has 63 legal attache offices spread across the globe which, along with smaller sub-offices, provide coverage in around 180 countries. In the case of Russian billionaires and their pleasure crafts, the FBI was invited by the host country to work along with them in clearing the web of shell companies, determine ownerships and finally seize a luxury motoryacht.

On June 24, 1940, a presidential directive established the FBI’s Special Intelligence Service (SIS)—the Bureau’s first civilian foreign intelligence service.Via Facebook / @FBI – Federal Bureau of Investigation

Also, when an MLAT (mutual legal assistance treaty) is signed between two countries, they are legally obligated to offer assistance when called upon. This is also how the United States and the FBI got involved in the case of Suleiman Kerimov’s $325 million Amadea superyacht.

US agents boarding the Amadea superyacht.

The FBI impounded Superyachts Amadea, Alfa Nero, and luxury vessel Tango-
While several E.U. countries only impounded megayachts of sanctioned oligarchs, the United States and FBI went a step ahead to take complete ownership. This was witnessed in the case of the $325 million superyacht Amadea. Suleiman Kerimov’s luxury ship was sailed stateside after a month-long court battle under the U.S. flag to be auctioned or scrapped possibly.

Tango superyacht Via Charterworld

Similarly, the $90million megayacht Tango belonging to the Russian–Cypriot oligarch Viktor Vekselberg was seized by FBI and Spanish authorities in Palma de Mallorca, the capital of Spain’s Balearic Islands. This operation was the first ever to be carried out by the FBI at the request of U.S. authorities along with Homeland Security Investigations and Spain’s Civil Guard.

Alfa Nero

More recently, the 279-feet luxury boat Alfa Nero of sanctioned billionaire Andrey Guryev and his namesake son was searched by the Antigua and Barbuda government and American FBI agents. The operation to search Alfa Nero and question its crew was carried out under the MLAT treaty.

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