Two Supreme Court judges have dismissed an application by Yulia Gurieva-Motlokhov, the daughter of Russian businessman Andrey Guryev, who sought to stop the sale of her father’s vessel – the Alfa Nero.
Justices Vicki Ellis and Gerard St. C Farara’s ruling aligned with a prior ruling from Antigua and Barbuda’s High Court on June 29, denying Gurieva-Motlokhov both an injunction and injunctive relief.
The luxury yacht was compulsorily acquired by the government of Antigua and Barbuda in April and is now owned by the Antigua and Barbuda Port Authority. Her attorney Dr. David Dorsett maintains that the action of the government is unconstitutional.
On June 15, 2023, Gurieva-Motlokhov filed a constitutional claim against the Port Manager, the Director of the Antigua and Barbuda Department of Marine Services and Merchant Shipping and the Honourable Attorney General in which she challenged the constitutionality of the Port Authority Amendment Act. She also applied for interim injunctive relief to restrain the sale of a yacht, Alfa Nero.
She claims she is the sole adult beneficiary of the trust that owns the yacht, by virtue of being the sole discretionary beneficiary of a trust that owns it indirectly.
The West imposed sweeping sanctions on Russia and many of its oligarchs after the country invaded Ukraine in late February in the hope of putting pressure on President Vladimir Putin to call off the war. The UK sanctioned Guryev on April 6, calling him a “known close associate of Vladimir Putin.
Even in disallowing the injunction, the justices agreed with Judge Rene Williams, who found a serious issue to be tried regarding the appellant’s proprietary interest in the vessel and the constitutionality of the Port Authority Amendment Act.
The ruling noted that judge Williams considered all the necessary variables before coming to his decision. “Therefore, there is no factual or legal basis to find on the application for injunctive relief that the learned judge erred in principle and had regard to irrelevant matters and, as a result, made a determination that was plainly wrong that would justify this court’s interference with his decision.
Williams concluded that Gurieva-Motlokhov could not yet prove that she had proprietary interest and it could not be held conclusively that she has any interests that warrants protection under Antigua and Barbuda’s constitution.
“It is naturally disappointing that the court has decided not to grant an injunction against the sale of the Alfa Nero vessel, though this has no impact on our constitutional claim, which is still being pursued in the Antiguan courts,” Dorsett wrote in a statement to the press.
“They are just wrong from a legal and moral point of view” – Dr. David Dorsett
Despite being refused the appeal for injunctive relief, Dorsett said his client expects to prevail in the constitutional claim, and for the purported seizure and auction to be invalidated.
The legal battle also involved a challenge to the constitutionality of the Port Authority Amendment Act, which granted powers to the Antigua and Barbuda Port Authority to deal with abandoned vessels.
The Alfa Nero was seized under the amended Port Authority Act, which allows the authority to investigate and take possession of abandoned vessels, subsequently auctioning them.
Dorsett claims that the government’s arguments for seizing the vessel, including concerns about environmental damage and shipping safety, are inconsistent and embarrassing for Antigua and Barbuda. He argues that the government ignored prior attempts by the owner to address the situation.
“To be clear, the Alfa Nero was never abandoned, as has been claimed. Prior to the seizure and auction, both the Antigua and Barbuda Attorney General and the Port Authority Port Manager were made aware of both the ownership of the vessel by a trust company, as well as the identity of the sole adult beneficiary of that trust. Neither have disputed these facts in court nor the fact that these approaches were not responded to,” he explained.
On March 20, 2023 the port authority act was amended to allow the authority to take measures to deal with abandoned vessels. The Port Manager’s new powers included the authority to investigate and satisfy himself as to whether it is appropriate to take possession of such a vessel and to dispose of it by auction. The section provided further that the net proceeds of any such auction are to be forfeited to the government of Antigua and Barbuda and in a case where the vessel or its beneficial owner is sanctioned, to the Consolidated Fund.
At that time, the vessel was listed as a blocked asset and subject to US sanctions. Guryev was designated under UK sanctions on 6th April 2022 and US sanctions on 2nd August 2022.
Dorsett said the various arguments given by Darwin Telemaque, the Port Manager and Government for the need to seize the vessel are embarrassing for the Islands of Antigua and Barbuda. He claimed that Telemaque made numerous claims about the condition of the Alfa Nero, citing possible environmental damage that could occur as well as a danger to shipping, yet in televised interviews at the auction he said it was in “pristine condition”, suggesting his earlier claims were merely to enable the seizure of the vessel.
Dr Dorsett, representing the appellant in the case, said, “This whole situation, and growing expense for the people of Antigua and Barbuda, could have been avoided had the Government not ignored the approaches to it by the owner of the Alfa Nero prior to the auction. We will continue to fight for the return of the Alfa Nero to its rightful owner and to challenge the unconstitutional changes to the law which enabled the seizure of someone else’s property without compensation in the first instance. Whilst we await the full detailed judgement, we note that the Court of Appeal agreed that my client has a good arguable case that the Port Authority (Amendment) Act could enable the confiscation of property without compensation, in violation of section 9 of our Constitution. We are considering all options, including appealing to the Privy Council.”
“The case is still alive, and they will consider their options”, he remarked.
Government counsel Anthony Astaphan says the legal team will be reviewing the written judgment and will advise Attorney General Steadroy Benjamin and Prime Minister Gaston Browne on the way forward.