Dubai court orders release of arrested superyacht Luna


A Dubai court has ordered the release of £350m superyacht, Luna, which has been centre stage in an ongoing legal battle between the Russian oil and gas magnate Farkhad Akhmedov and his former wife, Tatiana Akhmedova. The ruling has highlighted how various judicial systems approach the same case with differing cultural interpretation — specifically, in this case, the incompatibility of English and Shariah law. The decision has also come as bad news for litigation funder, Burford Capital. The firm has staked at least £18million over the past two years on keeping the 115metre yacht out of Akhmedov’s possession.

The Dubai court of appeal lifted an arrest warrant on Luna earlier this month. Akhmedov blocked an attempt to have ownership of the yacht transferred to the ownership of his former wife. Ms Akhmedova was awarded a divorce settlement of £453m by a London court in 2016, but her ex-husband has disputed the decision and refused to pay, claiming that the settlement was void because of their divorce in Moscow 20 years earlier.

“Principle of sharing the fortune”

Luna is the second largest explorer yacht ever built, with two helipads, nine decks, a swimming pool and a mini-submarine. The yacht has become the most contentious issue in the ongoing divorce saga, now involving Burford Capital for the past two years.

The firm successfully impounded the boat in 2018 while it was docked in Port Rashid, Dubai for repairs, after the High Court in London ordered Akhmedov to transfer the yacht to his former wife. The ruling was upheld by a court in Dubai, but lawyers for the Russian oil and gas magnate have since taken the case to local courts to have the decision overturned.

The ruling from Dubai’s court of appeal said the High Court in London had “relied upon the principle of sharing the fortune” of a husband and wife under English law, which contradicted the policies both of Islamic Sharia law and of the United Arab Emirates.

“Nobody is above the law”

Burford have so far invested £18million and is due to receive a third of the total divorce settlement upon completion. However, according to a spokesperson for Akhmedov, Burford has only reclaimed 1% as yet. It said it would continue to fight to uphold the English court ruling and that a further appeal would be heard at the Dubai court of cassation, a higher tribunal. A spokesman for Burford said: “Farkhad Akhmedov is a judgment debtor evading an English court order — as he will discover, nobody is above the law.”

A spokesman for Akhmedov said: “Luna rightly belongs to a family trust which exists for the benefit of all Mr Akhmedov’s dependants, not merely for that of an ex-wife for whom he has always provided generously and well in excess of the ruling of the Russian court.”

Luna was originally built for Roman Abramovich, the owner of England’s Chelsea Football Club, but sold to Mr Akhmedov, for what industry insiders have a called “a bargain basement price” of €240million, in 2014.

Luna: At a Glance

  • Builder: Lloyd Werft, Bremerhaven shipyard
  • Designer: Donald Starkey
  • Delivered: 2010 (refitted 2016)
  • Accommodates: 18 guests (49 crew)
  • Propulsion: 2 Wartsila 4,500kW diesel-electric engines and twin azipods
  • Top speed: 5 knots
  • Cruise speed: 16.8 knots
  • Fuel capacity: 850,000 litres
  • Cruising range: 7,600 nautical miles
  • Amenities: Helipad, Swimming Pool, Beach Club, Dance Floor, Tender Garage, Spa, Elevator, Underwater Lights, Air Conditioning, Stabilizers at Anchor, WiFi connection on board, Deck Jacuzzi