Hong Kong leader says ‘no legal basis’ to seize Russian megayacht

John Lee says financial hub will only enforce UN sanctions after yacht linked to Russian tycoon anchors in city.

Hong Kong’s leader has said the financial hub will not uphold sanctions with “no legal basis” after a superyacht linked to a sanctioned Russian oligarch was allowed to anchor in the city.

Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee said on Tuesday that Hong Kong would comply with United Nations sanctions but would not act on measures imposed by individual countries.

“That is our system, that is our rule of law,” Lee said during a regular press conference. “We cannot do and will not do anything that has no legal basis.”

Lee, who is himself under United States sanctions over his role in cracking down on dissent in Hong Kong, made the remark after the US State Department warned that harbouring the Nord, a megayacht believed to be owned by Russian tycoon Alexey Mordashov, could harm the city’s reputation as an international financial centre.

Mordashov, a billionaire steel magnate, is among several wealthy Russians sanctioned by the US, the United Kingdom and the European Union over their alleged links to the Kremlin following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Mordashov, the chairman of Russia’s largest steel company Severstal, has challenged the sanctions in European courts and insisted he has nothing to do with “the current geopolitical tensions”.

As permanent members of the UN Security Council, both China and Russia have a veto over international sanctions.

The Nord, which has two helipads and a swimming pool and is worth an estimated $500m, has been in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory since Wednesday following visits to the Maldives, Seychelles and Vladivostok.

Officials in the Chinese territory earlier said they would not enforce sanctions imposed by individual countries or blocs following the megayacht’s arrival in the city.

While US and European authorities have seized more than a dozen yachts believed to be owned by sanctioned Russian tycoons, some luxury yachts have travelled to jurisdictions with friendlier ties with Russia to avoid seizure, including Turkey.

China has declined to condemn Russia’s war in Ukraine and has criticised Western-led sanctions against the country as an example of “long-arm jurisdiction that have no basis in international law”.

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