$30 billion of Russian oligarch wealth frozen under international seizure effort
A multinational task force designed to seize Russian oligarchs’ wealth has blocked and frozen $30 billion in sanctioned individuals’ property and funds in its first 100 days in operation, the Treasury Department reported Wednesday.
That’s on top of the yachts, other vessels and luxury real estate that have been impounded, as well as $300 billion in Russian Central Bank funds that have been immobilized, the department said.
“We continue to increase Russia’s cost of its war” in Ukraine, the Treasury Department said of the Russian Elites, Proxies and Oligarchs task force, or REPO.
The program is designed to drain Russia of its resources as President Vladimir Putin continues his invasion of Ukraine, but civil rights advocates have raised concerns about potential overreach.
Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen and Atty. Gen. Merrick Garland convened the REPO task force in March in conjunction with a number of other countries, which are working together to investigate and prosecute oligarchs and other individuals allied with Putin. The European Commission has set up its own Freeze and Seize Task Force to work in conjunction with the REPO group.
The collective has worked to impound bank accounts, assets and properties. For instance, earlier this month, the U.S. announced sanctions on God Nisanov, one of the richest men in Europe, and Alexey Mordashov, one of Russia’s wealthiest billionaires, along with his wife and two adult children.
The U.S. took control of the $300-million, 348-foot yacht in Fiji on May 5. The Department of Justice said the plan is to sell it off.
“REPO members will continue to track Russian sanctioned assets and prevent sanctioned Russians from undermining the measures that REPO members have jointly imposed,” the Treasury Department said.
With sanctions increasing, there are growing concerns that seizures are being carried out on non-Americans outside of the judicial review process, with major consequences for sanctioned individuals who may not be able to challenge the seizures.
Attorney Tom Firestone, who specializes in international investigations for business clients, said seizures “can have consequences for innocent people who have nothing to do with the war — we need to be careful not to penalize innocent people.”
“We’ve seen a tremendous expansion of the sanctions,” Firestone said. “The U.S. government is going after a variety of targets. There is a lot of uncertainty about where it is all going.”
President Biden doesn’t want to just seize the yachts, luxury homes and other assets of Russian oligarchs, he wants to sell off the pricey goods and use the money to help rebuild Ukraine.
The American Civil Liberties Union has contested bills — including the House-passed Asset Seizure for Ukraine Reconstruction Act — that would make seizure of Russian assets easier for the government.
The federal government said that, in a wartime environment that has spawned a worldwide food crisis, “we are seeking to maximize the impact of sanctions on designated persons and entities while guarding against spillover that affects global commodities markets and food supplies.”
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