The $500 Million Yacht in the Middle of Britain’s Costliest Divorce

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As the nine-figure settlement was gaveled into divorce court history, Mr. Akhmedov began what the judge called a “campaign” to hide his assets “in a web of offshore companies.” Nothing demonstrates the breadth and ingenuity of that web like the Luna. Starting in November 2016, the yacht went on a whirlwind voyage, all of it on paper, in a feat of asset protection and financial engineering so elaborate that the judge diagramed it in an April ruling.

Initially, the seizure of the yacht in Dubai sounded like a setback for Mr. Akhmedov. Then, he and lawyers for the family trust that technically owns the Luna filed a claim — still pending — arguing that the fate of the yacht should be decided by a local court in Dubai, using Islamic law, known as Shariah.

Legal experts say Mr. Akhmedov has calculated that his odds of prevailing are better in a Shariah court, especially given that his ex-wife is a Christian who has acknowledged infidelity in their marriage. Stories in British tabloids have lately emphasized that Mr. Akhmedov is a practicing Muslim.

That is news to Ms. Akhmedova. In her first-ever interview, which took place recently in the office of a public relations firm, she said she had never seen her ex-husband kneeling on a prayer rug or going to a mosque, other than at a tourist site.

“Apparently because he was born in Azerbaijan, he’s a Muslim,” she said, her eyes widening with disbelief.

A sunny woman with a mild Russian accent, Ms. Akhmedova wore ripped denim jeans, a batch of string bracelets and a T-shirt that read “Free as a Butterfly.” She said she was reluctant to speak publicly about her divorce, because everything about it is painful, including the recent media coverage in Britain, which has made much of allegations of infidelity leveled by both sides.

She’s also startled by Mr. Akhmedov’s campaign to keep her from pocketing one cent of his $1.4 billion fortune, most of which he earned selling his stake in a Siberian energy company called Northgas. Contrary to popular assumptions, she said, she needs the money. She is living off a lump sum provided to her by Burford Capital, a litigation finance firm, which is helping to fund the legal efforts and will take a percentage of any results.

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