The middlemen at the heart of an oligarch-industrial complex


But Mr. Kochman still spent a lot of time in Moscow. That year he attended an exhibition for the ultra-wealthy, featuring one of his British-built yachts. “We buy your yachts and you buy our gas,” Kochman told a Guardian reporter. His company soon took off.

Wealthy Russians and Persian Gulf royalties now dominate the ranks of owners of the world’s most extravagant superyachts, which can cost up to $75 million a year to operate. Since 2010, 17 superyachts of 400 feet or longer have been delivered; they are all owned by Russians or members of the Gulf monarchies.

Around 2014, Imperial Yachts landed its biggest project to date, a 349-foot superyacht to be built by Lürssen, a German shipbuilder: this would become the Amadea. The Russian owner spared no expense, with hand-painted Michelangelo-style clouds over the dining table, a lobster tank, fire pit and, at the bow, a five-ton stainless steel Art Deco albatross figurehead. Nick Flashman, a former yacht captain who had joined Imperial, oversaw the project. Zuretti, a French company, did the interior design.

Sébastien Gey, Zuretti’s director, said in an interview that the yacht’s owner – whom he declined to name due to nondisclosure agreements – was closely involved in the design and construction, making regular visits while the ship was being built and equipped. This was delivered in 2017.

But even before it was finished, owner Lürssen had another, larger superyacht built, the Crescent, which was delivered in 2018, followed by the even larger 175-metre Scheherazade, which entered service in 2020. Most of the planning and details for those two ships were left to Mr Kochman, Mr Gey recalled.

That, Mr Flashman said, was not unusual. “The client may be completely immersed in the project, maybe not,” he said in a telephone interview. “I channel everything through Mr. Kochman.”

While Imperial Yachts oversees the projects, Lürssen, based in Bremen, receives payments directly from yacht owners, a company spokesperson said. Lürssen follows “all sanctions and associated laws,” he added.

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