The US government’s efforts to seize the Heesen Galactica Star have been stalled by a lawsuit in Mexico. The yacht is currently near Cancun, Mexico, without most of its crew. In court documents filed this week, the US Department of Justice said the yacht is in danger of “imminent risk” if not “outright destruction or theft” if the remaining crew members, who have not been paid since last summer, leave the yacht unattended.
The government moved to seize Galactica Star after a US district court ordered the forfeiture of Nigerian billionaire Kola Aluko’s assets, valued at US$144m, for alleged money laundering. The assets included the 65m Galactica Star and a Manhattan condo valued at around US$57m. The penthouse has been sold but the yacht remains in Mexico.
Aluko has been charged by prosecutors in Nigeria and Europe in a US$1.87bn scheme to defraud the Nigerian government of oil revenues. In the US, the Justice Department’s lawsuit said that Aluko laundered the illicit revenue by purchasing the New York condo and the yacht.
US efforts to seize the yacht have been complicated by a lawsuit filed in Mexico that the Justice Department suspects is a ploy to keep Galactica Star out of the hands of US authorities. “There are strong reasons to suspect that the Mexican lawsuit is a feigned or collusive suit engineered by Mr Aluko for the specific purpose of keeping the Galactica Star in Mexico,” said the US attorney in court documents.
The document said that the lawsuit “bears a striking resemblance” to several bankruptcy filings made in South Florida to protect Aluko’s assets. The US Trustee’s office has determined these to be fraudulent.
The US government’s biggest concern, according to the filings, is that the value of Galactica Star could be severely compromised if the remaining crew abandon the yacht. According to the court documents, they are still owed €95,894. The crew could also file a lien on the yacht for non-payment of wages.
The court document requested that a company called Lightray, which claims to have bought Aluko’s former company, Earnshaw, and therefore the yacht, be ordered to settle the Mexican lawsuit and bring the yacht back to the US.
The court filing questions whether the company actually changed ownership or not, and there were reports that Aluko was living aboard the yacht as recently as last autumn.