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Russia's Gazprom sought presidential yacht Sequoia

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Politics,Paul Bedard,Washington Secrets

A new charge in the raging battle for control of the former official presidential yacht USS Sequoia docked in Washington claims that the Russian energy giant Gazprom offered $20 million for the boat made famous by John F. Kennedy and ship it to St. Petersburg, Russia.

While he was lured by the money, owner Gary Silversmith and The Sequoia Presidential Yacht Group LLC felt they'd be labeled "a scoundrel" if they sold the wooden vessel and turned to Washington-based FE Partners LLC for a loan to pay off old debt and fix up the ship used for charters favored by political fundraisers, according to new court papers.

Two weeks ago, Sequoia's owners sued FE Partners, claiming the investment firm backed by wealthy Indians was manipulating the loan to take control of the ship.

Now FE has countered with its own claim that Sequoia is mismanaged and potentially owes $200,000 in back taxes, triggering a clause allowing it to buy the ship outright for $7.8 million. They also charge the owners with attempted "blackmail" of a separate investor who works for the White House.

Silversmith told Secrets, "Most of what they alleged is totally untrue."

In their new papers, FE Partners said they want to preserve the Sequoia and keep it in the United States. In fact FE's director, Michael Cantor, said he has sailed on the ship several times and knows Silversmith well.

A hearing is planned soon on Silversmith's suit, now made more complicated by the charges laid out by FE Partners.

The new papers suggest that Silversmith wants to pay-off FE Partners back but hasn't. FE Partners add that many of the financial issues that concern them now were discovered after they agreed to make the loan. Among their new charges:

-- Sequoia didn't have a business or liquor licence despite offering food and booze on charter trips.

-- The owners are about $25,000 behind in payroll.

-- Sequoia hasn't paid Washington, D.C. sales taxes. It potentially owes $200,000.

-- The ship's owners called on a friend to use his American Express to cover about $28,000 in repair work.

-- A White House worker owed $104,000 was urged to accept $80,000 and when she refused the owners threatened to have an IRS inspector who was a frequent guest check her out.

Sequoia's representatives had no immediate reaction to FE Partner's court filings Tuesday.