(This Oct. 1 story has been corrected to fix statement from Heesen spokesperson in paras 4-5.)
By Chris Kirkham
(Reuters) - A U.S.-based luxury yacht broker is advertising for sale a 168-foot (51-metre) superyacht linked to sanctioned Russian billionaire Igor Kesaev for 29.5 million euros (roughly $29 million), according to an email seen by Reuters.
The proposed sale of the MySky yacht, which was disclosed in an advertisement emailed from the brokerage firm to undisclosed recipients on Sept. 14, comes amid concerns from Western governments and campaigners that billionaires like Kesaev have been able to work around a patchwork of international sanctions targeting their luxury assets such as yachts.
The EU and UK sanctioned Kesaev in April in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, with the EU citing his involvement in military weapons production and tobacco distribution in Russia, as well as links to the Russian government "and its security forces." The United States has not sanctioned Kesaev, and the U.S. Treasury did not respond to requests for comment.
The spring 2021 edition of a magazine published by Heesen - the Netherlands-based firm that built MySky - said in an article about Kesaev's daughter and her art gallery that: "the Kesaev family is well known to Heesen, having commissioned Sky and MySky over the past decade."
Asked whether it was correct that the Kesaev family had commissioned the yachts, Sara Gioanola, a spokesperson for Heesen, confirmed that was what the magazine had stated. That edition of the magazine was taken offline after Reuters inquired about it.
Reuters was unable to independently confirm whether Kesaev has direct ownership in the MySky, which was completed in 2014.
Burgess, a yacht brokerage with offices in London, Monaco and other major markets, sent a statement after publication of this article saying Kesaev "is not the beneficial owner of MySky" and that it "does not have any commercial relationship with him." Burgess said in the statement it was "joint agent" for the sale.
The company added it has "completed full due diligence" that was verified by outside lawyers. "The owner of MySky is not subject to sanctions."
A Burgess spokesperson last week would not confirm the brokerage's involvement in the sale and said she "can't answer questions about the yacht" when Reuters inquired.
On Monday, the spokesperson also declined to answer questions about who the owner is and whether they are related to Kesaev.
A spokesman for Kesaev declined to address questions about the ownership of the yacht or its imminent sale, and didn't immediately respond to follow-up questions about the Burgess statement.
The advertisement seen by Reuters was sent from an email address at Fort Lauderdale, Florida firm Merle Wood & Associates, which calls itself "one of the premier yacht brokerage firms worldwide." It was circulated privately with a warning not to post the advertisement publicly. Reuters was unable to determine the recipients.
The yacht named MySky features "ultra-modern sophisticated interiors" by a well-known Dutch architect, an "indoor climate controlled gymnasium" and a deck that can be used for landing helicopters, according to the advertisement.
Merle A. Wood, who is listed as the point of contact on the MySky advertisement, told Reuters by phone he knows nothing about the yacht's owner and directed questions to Burgess, which he described as the primary broker in the proposed sale.
Clara Portela, a sanctions expert at the University of Valencia, said that because there are no U.S. sanctions on Kesaev, American businesses or buyers could be involved in the yacht sale without running afoul of sanctions.
A check by Reuters of the Burgess website on Wednesday found the MySky listed as available for charter bookings. As of Thursday, Burgess had removed the MySky charter listing after Reuters inquired about it.
The Merle Wood ad said that the yacht was in the Maldives. Reuters photographed the vessel in waters off the Indian Ocean island republic in early March, in the days after Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.
Yachts linked to sanctioned Russians have appeared in destinations such as the Maldives and Turkey in recent months as authorities in the United States, the European Union and the United Kingdom levied sanctions and sought to seize such assets. Authorities in the Maldives did not respond to requests for comment.
A spokesperson for the European Commission, which handles EU sanctions, said European leaders are encouraging other countries to align their policies with the EU, but said sanctions apply only within the EU's jurisdiction.
A spokesperson for the UK's Treasury said it does not comment on individual cases but "takes enforcement action in every reported case of suspected financial sanctions breach."
Roland Papp, who tracks illicit financial flows at Transparency International EU, said the often-secretive nature of sales involving superyachts means that it's highly unlikely authorities would ever learn about such transactions.
"It's very easy to try to avoid sanctions in this way," he said.
(Reporting by Chris Kirkham in Los Angeles. Additional reporting from David Gauthier-Villars in Istanbul, Alasdair Pal in New Delhi and Anthony Deutsch in Amsterdam.; Editing by Vanessa O'Connell and Claudia Parsons)