With the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 came a set of international sanctions that aimed, perhaps idealistically so, to discourage President Putin from pursuing the war by cutting off the cash flow from his associates. This resulted, to date, in countless pieces of real estate, luxury assets like superyachts and megayachts, custom vehicles and private jets, being seized by third-party countries because the owner was known for or suspected of having ties with the Kremlin.
The vast majority of these assets remain in custody, stuck in legal limbo because there's no precedent for something like this and, making matters worse, without a clear way of establishing ownership. Although the initial plan was to sell these assets off and send the cash to Ukraine, only one superyacht was sold to date, and the Ukrainian people saw exactly zero cents from it.
The superyacht, delivered new to Viktor Medvedchuk, a billionaire Ukrainian lawyer and known Putin associate living in exile in Russia, was seized in Croatia at the beginning of that year. It had recently arrived in the country to undergo repairs and was seized on behalf of the Ukrainian government, though U.S. agents took part in its capture. Medvedchuk has been on sanctions lists in the U.S. since 2014 for fraud.
In December 2022, Ukraine's Asset Recovery and Management Agency (ARMA) announced that Royal Romance would be sold at auction and that the money raised would become aid towards Ukraine. The value of the superyacht was estimated at around €200 million, which is approximately $220 million at the current exchange rate.
In mid-November 2023, after months of navigating the complex and murky legal waters of international seizures, ARMA announced that Royal Romance marks "the first time in Ukraine's history that the government has regulated the sale of confiscated property abroad." In layman's terms, the state is selling it off.
Three international auction houses have already shown interest in the vessel, which is expected to fetch at least $200 million when the hammer drops.
A spectacular build, a controversial owner, and an auction that may have already happenedFeadship delivered Royal Romance in 2015, with exterior design and naval architecture by Feadship and interior design by Seymour Diamond and the original owner, the "dark prince of Ukrainian politics," Medvedchuk himself.
With 92.5 meters (303.5 feet) in total length, Royal Romance skirts the megayacht category, but it definitely has the amenities and luxury features that grant it access inside with the "big boys."
It has four decks but six levels and offers accommodation for 14 guests across seven cabins and a crew of 22. It was a custom build for the owner and was never offered up for charter, which also makes it one of the most mysterious presences on this segment of the market – not at all a small thing, given its size.
Medvedchuk, the original and sole owner, is now in exile in Russia since late 2022, when he was included in a prisoner swap. Prior to that, he'd been charged with treason in his home country and put on house arrest before he escaped and was captured again. Putin is the godfather of his daughter, and that alone should speak volumes about the kind of relationship they have without getting into too many details.
But here's the strange bit about the news of the sale of Royal Romance: rumor has it that it happened as early as August 2023, and, believe it or not, the new owner is a Russian gentleman. Superyacht vlogger eSysman claims to have it on good – but unverifiable – authority that the sale went through last summer, which, if true, makes ARMA's announcement very strange.
ARMA says that the details of the auction will be announced soon, which means it's only a question of time before this superyacht-shaped enigma unravels.