In an inlet in Antigua, surrounded by touristy hotels and kitschy cafes, a yacht nearly three times the size of a basketball court and twice the price of a luxury private jet sits unused, awaiting its fate.
The Alfa Nero, one of the largest superyachts in the world, is the reported—but not confirmed— property of Russian oligarch Andrey Guryev, a top target of sanctions imposed by the U.S. after the invasion of Ukraine last year. Thanks to a tangled mess of international restrictions and offshore ownership, its future is now the subject of a three-way battle between Guryev’s daughter, the government of Antigua and Barbuda, and former Google CEO Eric Schmidt. And none of them know where the Alfa Nero will be this time next year.
“This whole damn thing has been like a Tom Clancy novel,” Darwin Telemaque, chief executive of the Antigua and Barbuda Port Authority, told the London Times last month. “And I’m stuck in the middle.”
The Alfa Nero was constructed in 2007 for Greek shipping and steel magnate Theodore Angelopolous by Oceanco, the same company that built Jeff Bezos’ $500 million megayacht. The ship, which is 269 feet long, boasts three double cabins, two VIP cabins, a master suite, a living area, a gym, an office, two hot tubs, and a pool that converts into a helicopter landing pad. The interior features a nautical theme, with imagery like seashells and staghorn coral; its current owners have further adorned it with artwork by Joan Miró and a baby grand piano.
Angelopolous put the yacht up for sale multiple times between 2009 and 2014, when—according to the U.S. Treasury—Guryev purchased it for $120 million. Guryev, however, has denied owning the yacht, telling Bloomberg he “neither owns nor controls the Alfa Nero” and simply leases it for commercial charter “from time to time.”
Guryev is the 25th richest man in Russia, and an incredibly private one. Raised in a small town outside Moscow, he trained to be a martial artist and for a time taught judo to USSR sports authorities. He worked in local politics and at a major bank before founding PhosAgro, the biggest manufacturer of phosphate fertilizers in Europe, skyrocketing his net worth to an estimated $9.6 billion.
According to a New Yorker profile, Guryev is the likely owner of Witanhurst, the second-largest home in London after Buckingham Palace, though he has denied this, too. Despite working in politics on and off throughout his life and serving as a Russian senator for over a decade, he has never given an interview or made a speech in the federal legislature. His family is equally private; the most public attention they have received is when his daughter-in-law, Valeria Guryeva, posted on Instagram that she was “too pretty for work,” sparking international headlines.
That is, until 2022, when Russia invaded Ukraine and Guryev was placed on the top list of Russians sanctioned by the U.S. and U.K. Suddenly, anything the billionaire was said to own was under strict scrutiny—including the Alfa Nero.
At the time, the ship was docked at Falmouth Harbour in Saint Paul Parish, Antigua. In August, the U.S. sent a team of FBI agents to search the vessel and concluded it belonged to Guryev through a complicated series of offshore companies that traced back to his control. (Another Russian businessman, Alexander Mavrodi, tried to claim the yacht was his, but the government dismissed this as “either a hoax or … a deliberate fabrication.”) Guryev maintained that the yacht did not belong to him.
As the war continued and the sanctions dragged on, the Alfa Nero sat unclaimed, burning through diesel and taking up space in the yacht club marina. The original 44 crew members were winnowed down to six, who passed their time lounging in lawn chairs on the deck or playing “Call of Duty” in the master suite, according to Bloomberg. Twenty-five members sued for millions in unpaid wages over the spring.
The government of Antigua and Barbuda, meanwhile, started to get antsy. Prime Minister Agston Browne complained the yacht was a security risk: It could spring a leak, catch fire, or set off any other number of calamities. “The yachting sector contributes more to our economy than even the cruise tourism sector,” he told the Antigua Observer. “Understand the reputational damage if we fail to act and we end up with a major catastrophe.”
Finally, in March, the islands’ government declared that the owner of the yacht had 10 days to claim it before it was auctioned to the highest bidder, with the proceeds going toward Antigua and Barbuda’s national debt. In April, the vessel was officially seized, and in June, the U.S. Treasury Department removed it from its list of blocked property. According to the Times, the government heard from 30 interested buyers, 16 of whom could prove they had the cash on hand and six of whom passed money-laundering checks. The final bids were submitted in sealed envelopes to the accountant general of the Antiguan treasury.
On June 16, the Anitguan government announced Schmidt, who is worth an estimated $20.4 billion, had the winning bid at $67.6 million—a 4 percent bump to the country’s gross domestic product. The former Google honcho, who owns another 195-foot yacht and a $20 million private plane, was instructed to make payment within seven days. Telemaque, the port executive, was thrilled. “I just want to see it gone,” he told the Times.
He may have spoken too soon.
In late May, a month before the auction, lawyers for a company called Flying Dutchman Overseas Limited filed suit in the Supreme Court of Antigua and Barbuda claiming it owns the Alfa Nero and had tried to assert ownership of it in the days before its seizure. It asked the court to block the sale, claiming officials had ignored its repeated attempts to lay claim to the boat. The judge on the case agreed that there may have been “procedural unfairness” in the seizure, but refused to stop the sale. Schmidt’s purchase went through eight days later.
But just this month, another obstacle appeared: Guryev’s daughter, Yulia Guryeva-Motlokhov, who lives in London with her hedge-fund manager husband Alexei Motlokhov. (The two recently caused a stir for trying to build a massive playground in the backyard of their $6 million, five-bedroom home, which neighbors deemed “more like a theme park.”) In an appeal filed July 12, Guryeva-Motlokhov claimed she is the sole beneficiary of the trust that owns the Flying Dutchman, and thus the rightful owner of the Alfa Nero.
In her appeal, she claimed that the Antiguan government did not have the right to sell off her property and that the auction had been improperly executed, according to the Antigua Observer.
Her attorney, David Dorsett, told the Observer he intends to fight for her right to the superyacht, adding: “We just want our boat back.”
“We think the action of the government in taking possession of the yacht and selling the yacht is wrong on all levels,” he said. “It is not the government’s yacht; they cannot just take it up and sell it to somebody else.”
The government hit back with a counter-appeal of its own last week, arguing that Guryeva-Motlokhov had no standing in the case.
The attorney general, Steadroy Benjamin, told The Daily Beast the two sides were in court over the matter on July 18 but declined to answer any further questions. Dorsett did not respond to calls and emails seeking comment.
Schmidt, meanwhile, is reportedly withholding payment until the matter is resolved. The government of Antigua and Barbuda is scrambling to get him to pay up, even offering to indemnify him from any future liabilities created by the suits. The country’s parliament is scheduled to vote on approving these legal guarantees soon, with the hope of expediting the sales process.
Information Minister Melford Nicholas told reporters earlier this month that the government is “certainly committed to executing the Alfa Nero sale,” but growing anxious.
“A legal position is that we should wait until all legal proceedings are done,” he said at a press conference July 9, according to the Carribean Times. “The question is, how much time can we reasonably afford?”