In the latest global effort to crack down on Russian power brokers, the world’s largest yacht was seized by German officials Tuesday because of the vessel’s association with a sanctioned billionaire with Kremlin ties.
“Through extensive investigations” officials were able to determine the owner of the yacht “despite offshore concealment,” the German Federal Criminal Police Office said in a tweet Tuesday morning. The mega boat’s owner was determined to be Gulbakhor Ismailova, the sister of Russian oligarch Alisher Usmanov, German authorities confirmed to USA TODAY.
“[The Office of Foreign Assets Controls] is identifying Usmanov’s superyacht and aircraft as blocked property in which Usmanov has an interest,” the Treasury Department said in an email statement to USA TODAY.
After police confirmed with Brussels that the owner was sanctioned, the luxury yacht, known as Dilbar, was legally commandeered. The 15,917-ton superyacht which is hailed by its manufacturer as “one of the most complex and challenging yachts ever built,” is currently being held at the Port of Hamburg in Germany.
The Dilbar, named after Usmanov’s mother, is registered in the Cayman Islands and is estimated to be worth between $600 million to $735 million. The opulent vessel features two helipads and one of the world’s largest indoor pools ever housed on a yacht, according to the Treasury Department. Operating the ship takes an estimated $60 million per year.
Who are Russia’s oligarchs? And how do they play into the war in Ukraine?
The Dilbar is not the first Russian yacht to be seized by the U.S. and its allies as part of sanctions against Russia for its deadly war in Ukraine. At least 13 ships, with a combined value of more than $2 billion, are reported to have been impounded since March 2.
The seizures are part of a directive from President Joe Biden that the U.S. and its allies would target Russian oligarchs in response to the Kremlin’s invasion: “We are joining with our European allies to find and seize your yachts, your luxury apartments, your private jets.”
“Usmanov’s Kremlin ties enrich him and enable his luxurious lifestyle,” the Treasury
Department’s statement read. The billionaire’s “vast holdings” across the Russian economy and abroad include the metal, mining, telecommunications and information technology industries, according to the department. He is known to be close to Russian President Vladimir Putin and Deputy Chairman of the Security Council of Russia Dmitry Medvedev.
“Usmanov and Putin allegedly have financial ties, while Medvedev has reportedly benefited from the personal use of luxurious residences controlled by Usmanov,” the department’s statement continued. The billionaire also owns 49% of the holding company USM, which did not respond to USA TODAY’s request for comment.
The United States announced sanctions against Russian elites and their family members March 3 in order to interrupt “direct and indirect” support to the Russian government amid Putin’s invasion of Ukraine nearly two months ago. The European Union also designated Usmanov.
“We are demonstrating our commitment to impose massive costs on Putin’s closest confidants and their family members and freeze their assets in response to the brutal attack on Ukraine,” Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen said in a statement announcing the sanctions.
Do you think rideshare and delivery drivers need better protections?
Rideshare and delivery drivers in Massachusetts are on strike today to protest low wages amid nationwide inflation. Drivers for companies like Uber, Lyft, and Grubhub gathered today at the State House to put pressure on lawmakers to make these corporations provide higher wages and union rights.
“Uber is making record profits by underpaying us. It’s exhausting, especially as we struggle to provide for our families,” said Uber driver and Massachusetts Independent Drivers Guild member Ehab Hilali in a statement. “I sometimes work 60 hours a week just to pay my car insurance, gas, and other work expenses. That’s why we’re calling on our politicians to fix this now. We need the right to form a union so we can finally hold Uber accountable and negotiate higher pay for drivers.”
Because drivers for these apps are considered independent contractors, many don’t make enough to keep up with the rising cost of living, and benefits are not guaranteed. In 2021, Boston Uber drivers earned a median of about $26.50 an hour, according to Uber.
The company takes 25% in fees for every trip they complete, but some drivers told MassLive that they’ve recently seen service fees of up to 50%. Some are discouraged from continuing the job, which has led to complaints from riders in the past.
During the height of the COVID-19 lockdowns when fewer rideshare drivers were available, Boston.com readers expressed frustration at the long wait times and delayed service.
“Lame public transport, labor laws scaring gig workers…common man suffers,” one reader said.
We want to hear from rideshare and delivery app drivers in Massachusetts about your recent experiences. Do you want to see higher wages and union protections? Are you struggling to make ends meet as everyday prices rise?
Share your thoughts with Boston.com by filling out the survey below or e-mailing us at email@example.com and we may feature your response in a future article or on our social media channels.
At Berkeley Law, a debate over Zionism, free speech and campus ideals
On the first day of the fall semester, Erwin Chemerinsky, the dean of the law school at the University of California, Berkeley, learned that a student group created a bylaw that banned supporters of Zionism from speaking at its events.
Chemerinsky said he rarely used profanity but did so in that moment. As a constitutional law scholar and co-author of a book about campus free speech, Chemerinsky said that he knew the group, the Berkeley chapter of Law Students for Justice in Palestine, had the legal right to exclude speakers based on their views.
But he also knew the bylaw, which eight other student groups also adopted, would be polarizing within the law school and used as a cudgel by forces outside of it.
Santos was registered to vote at a modest townhouse in Queens that he does not own, but he moved away before the election. His former landlord, Nancy Pothos, 72, said Santos had been a tenant for two years before moving at the end of August.
Santos’ campaign spokesperson and his lawyer didn’t respond to a list of questions about his company, possible discrepancies in his biography or the criminal case in Brazil.
The controversy, pushed along online by conservative commentators, hits two of the pressure points in campus politics today. The bylaw was adopted as antisemitism is rising across the country. And some critics of academia have cast left-wing students as censors who shout down other viewpoints, all but strangling, they say, honest intellectual debate.
That collision of issues all but guaranteed a tense debate over free speech, even if a broad swath of speech experts say that student groups are allowed to ban speakers whose views they disagree with.
“A student group has the right to choose the speakers they invite on the basis of viewpoint,” said Chemerinsky, who is Jewish and a Zionist. “Jewish law students don’t have to invite a Holocaust denier. Black students don’t have to invite white supremacists. If the women’s law association is putting out a program on abortion rights, they can invite only those who believe in abortion rights.”
Chemerinsky said that excluding speakers based on race, religion, sex or sexual orientation would not be allowed, but he noted that the student groups were excluding speakers based on viewpoint. True, he said, many Jews view Zionism as integral to their identity, but such deep passions do not change the law.
Other legal experts noted that the controversy showed just how mangled the understanding of the First Amendment had become, even at a place like Berkeley, the epicenter of the 1960s free-speech movement. The debate, they said, should focus on whether these bans align with the academic ideal of open, intellectual debate. Even if student groups can prohibit speakers, should they? And should such bans be codified — formally adopted with a bylaw?
“There’s a real confusion about freedom of speech as a cultural value and freedom of speech as a legal concept,” said Will Creeley, the legal director of Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, a free-speech advocacy group.
The issues are not limited to the Justice in Palestine group. Campus groups often invite only those they agree with. Hillel, the Jewish student group with hundreds of chapters on college campuses, also has rules prohibiting speakers who “delegitimize” Israel.
In August, Law Students for Justice in Palestine announced that it, along with the eight other groups, had adopted a provision that it would “not invite speakers that have expressed and continued to hold views or host/sponsor/promote events in support of Zionism, the apartheid state of Israel and the occupation of Palestine.”
The student group said the ban was meant to promote the welfare of Palestinian students and was part of a broader provision aligned with the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel.
Some Jewish students expressed concern and tensions flared within the law school. Noah Cohen, a law student at Berkeley, said the bylaw was an example of how antisemitic rhetoric was being normalized in the United States. Cohen, who described himself as a Jewish supporter of Palestinian rights and statehood, said the bylaw made him and many other Jewish students feel “singled out and targeted.”
In public statements, Law Students for Justice in Palestine rejected the accusation that its bylaw was antisemitic. It says that being Jewish is an identity, while Zionism — the support for a Jewish state — is a political viewpoint. It welcomes and supports Jewish speakers who are not Zionists, the group said.
“Supporting Palestinian liberation does not mean opposition to Jewish people or the Jewish religion,” the group said in a statement to the Berkeley law community. Members of the group did not respond to messages seeking an interview.
After learning about the bylaw, Chemerinsky met with the university’s Hillel rabbi and spoke with several Jewish students, but, aside from concerns within the law school, the reaction was relatively muted, he said.
That changed, he said, after Kenneth L. Marcus, the civil rights chief of the U.S. Education Department during the Trump administration, wrote about the bylaw in September in The Jewish Journal under the explosive headline “Berkeley Develops Jewish Free Zones.”
Marcus wrote that the bylaw was “frightening and unexpected, like a bang on the door in the night,” and said that free speech does not protect discriminatory conduct.
The article went viral.
Chemerinsky said he learned about Marcus’ article, which he described as “inflammatory and distorted,” while he was in Los Angeles for a conference. Chemerinsky said he typed out a response to the article, which was appended to it, and then didn’t think much of it. That afternoon, he was deluged by emails. At an alumni event that night, the law school’s perceived hostility to Jews was “all anyone wanted to talk about.”
In an interview, Marcus, a Berkeley law school alumnus, said he was contacted by law students there who were concerned about the bylaw. He said he spent weeks trying to support them and wrote his article after Berkeley did not “rectify the problem.”
Not allowing Zionist speakers, he said, was a proxy for prohibiting Jews. The provisions, he said, are “aimed at the Jewish community and those who support the Jewish community,” even while acknowledging that the policy could allow Jewish speakers and bar those who are not Jewish.
The article stoked outrage. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and singer Barbra Streisand both tweeted about it. “When does anti-Zionism bleed into broad anti-Semitism?” Streisand wrote.
Politicians called for action. Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., said in a statement that funding to the groups should be conditional on revoking the provision. Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., said that the Education Department should investigate “whether and how federal taxpayer dollars are used to discriminate against Jewish and pro-Israel students” at the university.
In many ways, Chemerinsky was well suited to navigate the issues. In 1999, he helped found the Progressive Jewish Alliance, a social justice group based in Los Angeles. He is also co-chair of the National Center for Free Speech and Civic Engagement at the University of California and a co-author of a book on campus speech.
But the past semester has been a challenge. Many students have been doxxed and harassed for their connection to the bylaw, Chemerinsky said. In the weeks after Marcus’ article, he added, a right-wing group that describes itself as a media watchdog drove trucks near campus comparing the students who adopted the bylaw to Hitler, and included the names of the students who were in the organizations that adopted the bylaw, even if they voted against it.
As the semester ended Friday, Chemerinsky was still dealing with the fallout.
The Office for Civil Rights at the Education Department said Dec. 13 that it would open an investigation into whether Berkeley responded appropriately, according to Arsen Ostrovsky, one of two lawyers who filed a complaint on behalf of the International Legal Forum, a group based in Tel Aviv, Israel.
Opening an investigation does not imply that the office has determined that the case has merit, according to a letter sent to Ostrovsky by the Office for Civil Rights.
Chemerinsky said the complaint, which calls on Berkeley to “immediately invalidate” the bylaw, includes the same flawed assumptions from previous attacks. He said he was confident that Berkeley was on “strong legal ground.”
“Every dean or school administrator always worries about being accused of discrimination,” he said. “I never imagined I would be accused of discrimination against Jews.”
Hochul urged bolster health care for retired public workers
A bill meant to strengthen health care services for retired public workers once they enroll in the Medicare program is sitting on Gov. Kathy Hochul’s desk for her consideration.
An organization that represents a half million retired state and local government workers in New York is urging her to sign it.
The measure is meant to ensure retired people in New York who worked for municipal governments or the state do not lose Skilled Nursing Facility care once they enroll in the Medicare program upon turning age 65.
Medicare-eligible retirees under the program are allowed 20 days of coverage with a three-day prior hospital requirement. But for retirees who are enrolled in the Empire Plan, they can access up to 120 days of coverage with no prior hospitalization requirement.
The Retired Public Employees Association calls this an imbalance in health care coverage for people who need it the most as they age. The bill sitting on Hochul’s desk since Monday is meant to address it.
“Public employees work their entire careers under the promise and expectation that when they retire, their existing benefits will not diminish. It’s time for New York to uphold that promise and end inequities in skilled nursing care,” said Edward Farrell, the group’s executive director. “With the stroke of a pen, Gov. Kathy Hochul can end age discrimination by providing 225,000 Medicare-primary retirees in the NYS Health Insurance Program Empire Plan the same access to skilled nursing care that is available to Empire Plan enrollees who are still working.”
Prior attempts to make changes to the program have fallen short in recent years.
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