Yacht Hunting: Unveiling the Ultimate Beneficial Ownership of Russian Vessels Using Open-Source Data

Illicit actors will go to great lengths to hide their assets. One prime example is Vagit Alekperov, a Russian oligarch who was sanctioned by a number of Western countries following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.   

It’s publicly known that Alekperov owns several yachts; however, a closer look at their ownership structures shows a complicated, cross-border network of shell companies and trusts. 

By combining vessel ownership data, corporate records, and open-source reporting, we were able to trace the ownership of all three yachts back to Alekperov through eight layers of corporate entities, including shell companies in Malta and Cyprus as well as a discretionary trust. This type of analysis not only provides a closer look at the ownership structure itself, it is also an effective way to generate new leads into additional assets owned by Alekperov or his family, as well as unveil key business associates. 

Sayari Graph, our commercial risk intelligence platform, makes it possible to visualize the complex ownership structures that oligarchs like Alekperov use to obscure funds and assets. Below we explain how we conducted this investigation and how you can apply the same tools to your next investigation. Follow along as you read with a 14-day free trial of Sayari Graph.

Vessel Ownership Data is Not Enough

Identifying the ultimate beneficial ownership of vessels can be challenging. While vessel ownership data is readily available publicly or commercially, this information typically only provides the identity of the vessel’s direct owner, which, more often than not, is a legal entity, not a natural person. This means that vessel ownership data alone is usually insufficient –  investigators need to combine this data with public records and other open source information in order to uncover the individuals in control.

Phase One: Identify the Direct Owner of the Yacht

To begin unpacking the ownership structure behind yachts believed to be ultimately owned by Vagit Alekperov, we need to first identify the direct owners of the yachts themselves. 

The three yachts we are interested in are Galactica Super Nova (IMO: 9798234); Genesis (IMO: 9859222); and Space (IMO: 9662980). Vessel ownership data provided by Lloyd’s Seasearcher suggests the yachts are owned by Malta-registered Nova 70 Limited, Long Island Limited, and Super Waves 34 Limited, respectively.

Phase Two: Unpacking Nested, Cross-border Corporate Structures

At this point, we have the direct owners of the yacht. Now we need to use public records to see who or what owns the three Maltese shell companies. 

Corporate records from Malta suggest that the owner of Nova 70 Ltd, Long Island Ltd, and Super Waves 34 Ltd is yet another Malta-registered shell company called Waves Holdings Limited. 

Malta-registered Waves Holdings Limited, in turn, is owned by a Cypriot company called Grindale Investments.
The ownership structure goes through three more additional levels of ownership, all consisting of Cypriot entities, until arriving at a company called Vela Investments Limited.
Vela Investments Limited is a Cypriot entity that was previously registered in the British Virgin Islands under the name Vela Holding Company Limited. 

Cypriot corporate records suggest that the majority owner of Vela Investments Limited is a discretionary trust in Guernsey called the Verona Trust. Alekperov and his family are the beneficiaries of the trust, according to corporate documents filed in the London Stock Exchange for Lukoil, a large Russian energy company for which Alekperov previously served as the CEO.

Intermediary Companies Provide Leads for Additional Investigations

In this case, public reporting on the vessels had already identified Alekperov as the likely ultimate beneficial of the three yachts. But there’s still a lot of value in unpacking the corporate structure behind this ownership. Identifying the intermediary entities in complex, cross-border corporate networks can provide important leads for future investigations. 

In this investigation, our main goal was to map the ownership structure behind three luxury yachts and to verify Russian oligarch Vagit Alekperov as the owner. But there are plenty of avenues we could take from here to identify additional assets ultimately owned or controlled by Alekperov or his family. 

For example, Malta-based Waves Holdings Limited and Cyprus-based Grindale Investments Limited both own additional entities in Malta (circled below). Further research would be required to identify whether any of these companies also own yachts or other luxury fixed assets on behalf of Alekperov.

We could also look at other types of control parties (i.e. directors, managers, legal representatives, etc.) associated with these entities to identify potential proxies operating on behalf of Alekperov. 

For example, an individual named Vladislav Mokhonko shows up repeatedly across shell companies in Malta that we’ve established to be ultimately owned by Alekperov, suggesting that Mokhonko could be a key business associate operating on behalf of Alekperov. 

If you’d like to recreate this investigation or pursue your own exploration, sign up today for a 14-day free trial of Sayari Graph to begin mapping out corporate ownership networks.

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