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Giant £570 million superyacht 'owned by Vladimir Putin' is seized by Italian authorities as part of

sanctions against Russia over invasion of Ukraine

The Scheherazade is more than 450ft long, and boasts spas, swimming pools and two helicopter pads

Activists linked to imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny are convinced it belongs to Putin

The yacht has been the subject of an investigation by the Italian financial police since the end of March

A giant superyacht said to be owned by Vladimir Putin was last night set to be seized by Italian authorities after they recommended it be impounded as part of sanctions against Russia.

Authorities in Italy said the $700 million The Scheherazade, which is more than 450ft long, and boasts spas, swimming pools and two helicopter pads was connected to a 'significant person' but did not name them.

The yacht has been the subject of an investigation by the Italian financial police since the end of March and has been in dock at Marina di Carrara near Pisa since September undergoing a refit.

The late night announcement came after fears grew that The Scheherazde was about to slip away and head to international waters and avoid any possible sanctions.

In recent days there has been a flurry of activity around the yacht and when MailOnline visited in March it emerged that the majority of the Russian crew had been spirited away in the middle of the night and replaced by a British contingent.

A statement from the Italian Financial Police said: 'After verification by the fiscal authorities it has come to light that there is a significant economic connection between the owner of The Scheherazade and senior elements of the Russian government.

'On the basis of these elements it has been recommended that the yacht be placed on the current European Union sanctions list and the Minister of Finance in Rome has agreed.'

Tonight Mariateresa Levi of the Italian Financial Police told MailOnline:' I am not in a position to tell you who the actual owner is but we are satisfied that the yacht should be seized and in the next few hours officers will board and impound her.'

The Scheherazade's captain, Briton Guy Bennett-Pearce, has denied Putin is the owner but has refused to reveal who is.

There have been claims that the vessel may belong to Eduard Khudainatov, a Russian oil tycoon who has not been hit by sanctions. He is the former chairman and chief executive of Rosneft, the state-owned Russian company that deals in oil and gas. Mr Khudainatov is close to Igor Sechin, a Putin ally and chairman of Rosneft.

But activists and investigative journalists linked to Alexei Navalny, the imprisoned Russian opposition leader, are convinced that it belongs to Putin.

They obtained information which suggested that many of the yacht's crew were members of the Federal Protection Service, the agency that provides security for Putin and his acolytes.

The decision to seize the Cayman islands registered yacht after Navalny supporter Maria Pevchikh posted on Twitter:' Ok guys we have a problem, Putin's secret $700 million yacht is about to escape sanctions by simply taking off from Italy.

'It's a matter of days now. The Italian authorities are doing nothing to stop it. So we should.'

A probe into the vessel's crew revealed that almost all of them worked for either the FSB or FSO - Russian secret services that are charged with protecting Putin - and routinely flew to and from Moscow on shift rotations.

The only member of the crew who did not work for the secret service was British captain Guy Bennett Pierce, who confirmed that the vessel is Russian-owned but refused to say who the owner is.

Documents for the Scheherazade seen by Navalny's team show the official owner is an offshore company from the Marshall Islands - a tactic commonly used by the super-rich to conceal their wealth.

Putin is also known to list family or friends as owners, with his name almost never used on official documents.

Shortly after the results of Navalny's investigation were published, the entire Russian crew vanished and were replaced by Britons. No reason for the replacement was given.

Workers taking part in the vessel re-fit have described it as a miniature floating city - complete with 'countless swimming pools, a spa, a sauna, a theatre, ballrooms, a gym, [and two helipads.'

The boat even houses its own hospital, workers said, amid rumours that Putin's health is failing.

The yacht arrived at the port at the end of last summer under the steerage of Captain Bennett-Pearce, who denies that Putin is the owner or has ever been on board.

Paolo Gozzani, of the local CGIL Union, spoke to MailOnline in late March when the Russian crew were suddenly recalled from the Scheherazade. He said: 'From what I have heard the Russian crew were all replaced during the last few days and now they are all British.

'It was all a few days, the word from inside is that they were called back to report for military service and now there are armed guards surrounding it as well. You can't get anywhere near her and the level of security is unbelievable.'

A source at the marina said: 'You could spot the Russians a mile off they were in the local bars most night, drinking vodka and beer.

'They were big looking guys and then one day they all just disappeared. To be honest for me they didn't look like a yacht crew they looked like a small army or security detail.'

The six-deck Scheherazade is one of the largest and most-expensive privately-owned boats in the world - with space equivalent to two apartment blocks.

The yacht has room for 18 guests in nine luxury cabins in addition to a crew of 40, residing in 20 cabins and boasts two helipads, a royal suite, a swimming pool, a spa and a beauty salon.

But since its launch in 2020, the yacht's true ownership has been cloaked in absolute secrecy.

Currently docked for repairs at the Italian Sea Group shipyard in Marina di Carrara, Italy, the Scheherazade is protected by measures that are extreme even by the ultra-private standards of the superyacht world, with covers hiding its nameplate and a metal barrier erected to partially block the vessel from public view.

For more than a year, workers at the shipyard have speculated that the ship belongs to Putin himself, a source there told MailOnline on March 8. 'All the whispers were it belonged to Putin,' the person said.

The source said that the Scheherazade's crew appear to be Russian, and that a team of Germans working on repairs to the vessel were recalled by their home office after the EU announced its sanctions in early March.

However, Captain Guy Bennett-Pearce denied has that Putin owns the Scheherazade or has ever been on board, telling the New York Times: 'I have never seen him. I have never met him.'

The ship's name, Scheherazade, is the female protagonist from the Middle Eastern collection of tales known as the One Thousand and One Nights. It is also the title of a symphonic suite by Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov that is based on the tales.

The ship reportedly features personal touches for the Russian strongman including a judo gym with framed pictures of Putin's black belts.

And the Scheherazade carries books The Atlas of Beauty by Mihaela Noroc, Fashion History from the Kyoto Costume Institute and Photo Icons by Hans-Michael Koetzle.

A worker involved in the yacht's construction told the Sun: 'Every surface is marble or gold. There are countless swimming pools, a spa, a sauna, a theatre, ballrooms, a gym, two helipads. It's like a mini city.

'There is even a hospital which makes sense when you hear rumours of Putin being terminally ill. It is hard to swallow the fact that the most incredible ship in the world is owned by a man intent on bombing civilians in Ukraine.

'And it is an unimaginable amount of wealth when the average Russian's salary is £5,000 a year, and people there are struggling to eat.'

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