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Judge denies challenge to Port Authority Act that seized the Alfa Nero

High Court Judge Rene Williams has once again refused to grant an injunction to Yulia Guryeva-Motlokhov, the daughter of sanctioned Russian billionaire Andrey Guryev to stop the sale of the Alfa Nero. 

The judge ruled that her legal team was not able to prove that the Antigua and Barbuda Port Authority acted unlawfully when it seized the Alfa Nero on behalf of the state. 

Guryeva-Motlokhov had challenged the Port Authority (Amendment) Act 2023, which empowered the government to seize the vessel citing concerns over environmental risks posed by its presence in Falmouth Harbour. 

She argued that her property rights in the vessel and the works of art were annulled by the Port Amendment Act which was passed in the Antigua and Barbuda parliament last March.

Guryeva-Motlokhov wanted the court to file an injunction to stop the sale of the luxury yacht and order the forfeit of monies from any sale into the government’s consolidated fund. Her primary arguments were that the Authority expropriated her property without compensation and that the vessel is not entitled to be registered under the Antigua and Barbuda Merchant Shipping Act 

But Justice Williams, considering the continued risk of environmental damage being caused by the presence of the yacht in Falmouth Harbour, refused to grant an injunction and application for interim relief. He instead ordered the original claim of ownership for September 20, 2024.

In his ruling, the judge also noted that the case ‘Flying Dutchman Overseas Ltd v The Port Authority’, where leave was granted to file a judicial review, will also be set down for September 20, in order to consider whether the two matters should be heard together. 

Flying Dutchman Overseas Limited and Vita Felice Limited,  both companies Incorporated in The Territory of The Virgin Islands – have challenged the manner in which the vessel was seized by the government. Vita Felice Ltd claims to be the owner of several works of art on board the vessel, while Flying Dutchman Overseas Ltd claims ownership of the boat. Both entities are said to be managed by Guernsey-based fiduciary services company Opus Private Ltd and its CEO Shane Giles.

Port manager, Darwin Telemaque during tour of Alfa Nero after it was seized by government (photo credit: Wayne Mariette)

Case Background

The case, which has been ongoing since June 2023, revolves around the constitutionality of the Act and its implications for the ownership rights of the Alfa Nero, and its accompanying works of art.

Gurieva-Motlokhov, represented by a legal team led by Dr. David Dorsett, challenged the Act on the grounds that it infringed upon her property rights guaranteed by sections 3 and 9 of the Antigua and Barbuda Constitution. The Act, which was enacted in March 2023, introduced provisions allowing the Port Manager to sell vessels abandoned in Antigua and Barbuda harbors, with proceeds potentially being forfeited to the government’s Consolidated Fund.

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Guryeva-Motlokhov sought various forms of interim relief, including injunctions to prevent the sale of the yacht, declarations regarding its registration status, and the sealing of confidential information related to the case. While Judge Williams ultimately denied the constitutionality argument, he ordered that detailed financial documents requested by the government be sealed. 

The decision hinged on several key factors:

  • Serious Issue to be Tried: The court recognized the constitutional challenge brought forth by Gurieva-Motlokhov. However, it was noted that the Act itself is presumed to be constitutional unless proven otherwise, and the burden of proof was not met by the Applicant.
  • Balance of Convenience: The court considered the delay in action by Gurieva-Motlokhov in asserting her rights, as well as the potential harm caused by the continued presence of the vessel in the harbor. Ultimately, it was determined that injunctive relief was not warranted given the circumstances.
  • Adequacy of Damages: While Gurieva-Motlokhov argued for the sentimental value of the vessel, the court emphasized the need for a legally recognized interest or right to property. Sentimental value alone was deemed insufficient to warrant injunctive relief.
  • Interim Declarations: Gurieva-Motlokhov’s request for interim declarations regarding the vessel’s registration status was denied, as it was deemed more appropriate for trial proceedings.
  • Sealing of Confidential Information: The court ruled in favor of sealing certain financial information to protect the Applicant’s privacy.

Her recent challenge comes after the Court of Appeal rejected Yulia Guryeva-Motlokhov’s appeal against Justice Rene Williams’ decision to deny an initial injunction preventing the sale of the Alfa Nero. Despite this setback, her lawyer, Dr. David Dorsett was confident that the constitutional claim would be successful in court. 

Read full case order here: https://www.eccourts.org/judgment/yulia-gurieva-motlokhov-v-the-port-manager-of-the-antigua-barbuda-port-authority-et-al

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