Hong Kong declined to seize the superyacht of a sanctioned Russian oligarch saying there was “no legal basis” for them to act on the penalties imposed by the west.
“We will comply with United Nations sanctions, that is our system, that is our rule of law,” said chief executive John Lee on Tuesday, as he dismissed the criticism by the US State Department for allowing a luxury yacht linked to billionaire Alexey Mordashov docked in its harbour.
“We cannot do anything that has no legal basis,” he told reporters, while refusing to act on unilateral sanctions imposed by individual jurisdictions.
Mr Mordashov, a close ally of Russian president Vladimir Putin, was among a number of oligarchs sanctioned by the European Union and the US, following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
While a number of Russian superyachts have been seized or denied entry in Europe and other jurisdictions, the 465ft (141m) Nord, valued at about $521m, has been docked prominently in waters west of Hong Kong’s iconic Victoria Harbour since last week after sailing from Russia.
Earlier, the US state department had slammed city authorities, saying that the use of Hong Kong by individuals evading sanctions from multiple jurisdictions could carry reputational risks and call into question the “transparency” of the financial hub’s business environment.
“Hong Kong’s reputation as a financial centre depends on adherence to international laws and standards,” a US State Department spokesperson said. “The possible use of Hong Kong as a safe haven by individuals evading sanctions from multiple jurisdictions further calls into question the transparency of the business environment.”
Mr Lee, who himself has been sanctioned by the US for his role in clamping down on local freedoms and imposition of the repressive national security law, criticised the sanctions imposed against individual Hong Kong officials, calling it “a very barbaric act”.
“It is a very barbaric act and I’m not going to comment. Officials in Hong Kong do what is right to protect the interests of the country and the interests of Hong Kong,” he said.
“We’ll just laugh off the so-called sanctions.”
Additional reporting from agencies