Hong Kong leader John Lee has deflected U.S. criticism over the city allowing a sanctioned Russian superyacht to dock there, saying the city has "no legal basis" to enforce Western sanctions.
"We cannot do anything that has no legal basis," Lee said to reporters on Tuesday, rejecting the idea that Hong Kong is obliged to act on unilateral sanctions imposed by the European Union, United States, United Kingdom and other countries.
"We will comply with United Nations sanctions, that is our system, that is our rule of law," Lee added. Russia has veto power over any such sanctions.
The spectacular, 465-foot vessel arrived in Hong Kong on Oct. 5 after a 7-day voyage from the Russian Far East port of Vladivostok -- flying a Russian flag from the stern. Yacht broker Michael Maximilian Bognier told CNN that the repositioning may reflect a desire to avoid harsh winter conditions in Vladivostok.
The yacht -- the Nord -- belongs to Russian Alexey Mordashov. With an estimated net worth of $18.7 billion, Bloomberg ranks him as the 68th-wealthiest person on Earth. He's the largest shareholder of a major Russian steelmaker, and holds a variety of stakes in other industries.
The United States sanctioned Mordashov, his wife and two adult children in June, as part of a broader campaign to punish Russia's oligarchs for Putin's invasion of Ukraine. Western authorities have seized more than a dozen yachts owned by sanctioned Russians.
Biden stumbles on the word ‘kleptocracy’ pic.twitter.com/O0lK2MNmcJ— Ben Owen 🇺🇸 (@hrkbenowen) April 28, 2022
Seeking relief in European courts in the spring, Mordashov said, “I have absolutely nothing to do with the emergence of the current geopolitical tension and I do not understand why the EU has imposed sanctions on me."
Hong Kong's Lee was responding to vague criticism issued by the State Department over the Nord's presence in Hong Kong:
“The possible use of Hong Kong as a safe haven by individuals evading sanctions from multiple jurisdictions further calls into question the transparency of the business environment,” jeopardizing Hong Kong's reputation as a global financial hub, a spokesman told Bloomberg.
Built by Germany's Lürssen and delivered in 2021, the Nord is said to be worth more than $500 million. Requiring a crew of 40 or more and perhaps $45 to $50 million in annual operating costs, it's reportedly equipped with:
- 20 cabins accommodating up to 36 guests spread across six decks
- Two helipads and a retractable hangar
- An oversized swimming pool
- A submersible craft for undersea exploration
- Three Toyota Landcruisers and four quad bikes
- A fleet of custom tenders, including a hovercraft and vessels that can carry vehicles to shore