Global Task Force To Seize Russian Oligarchs’ Assets Launched

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An international task force with aims including the uncovering and seizure of Russian oligarchs’ assets when appropriate has been launched amid the Russian government’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine, which has sparked numerous sanctions targeting Russia from around the world. Russia has, in fact, become the most-sanctioned country on the planet. The task force launch took place on Wednesday, March 16 with a meeting between Attorney General Merrick Garland, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, and representatives from Australia, Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the European Commission, and the effort is called the Russian Elites, Proxies, and Oligarchs (REPO) multilateral task force.

As explained by the Justice Department: “The task force [members], consisting of Finance Ministry and Justice or Home Ministry [officials] in each member jurisdiction, each committed to using their respective authorities in concert with other appropriate ministries to collect and share information to take concrete actions, including sanctions, asset freezing, civil and criminal asset seizure, and criminal prosecution.” In other words, potential asset seizures are explicitly on the metaphorical table here as officials continue their pursuit of certain wealthy Russian individuals’ fortunes. Notably, the Justice Department adds that in recent weeks “information provided by U.S. law enforcement to foreign partners has contributed to the restraint of multiple vessels controlled by sanctioned individuals and entities.” The press release didn’t specify which vessels it meant, but there have recently been a number of high-profile seizures. As Garland explained it:

‘We are already working with our international partners to freeze and seize properties belonging to sanctioned Russian oligarchs worldwide. We will continue to work together to take all appropriate actions against those whose criminal acts enable the Russian government to continue its unjust war against Ukraine.’

Yellen added: “Our sanctions, trade restrictions, and other measures have already imposed significant costs on Russia, its leadership, and those who enabled Putin’s unprovoked invasion into Ukraine. This multilateral task force will raise those costs even more, by galvanizing coordinated efforts to freeze and seize assets of these individuals in jurisdictions around the world and deny safe haven for their ill-gotten gains.” The Justice Department recently announced a domestic task force — called Task Force KleptoCapture — with similar ambitions, and the department noted that its efforts would support those of the international team. The domestic group “is designed to help deploy U.S. prosecutorial and law enforcement resources to identify sanctions evasion and related criminal conduct,” the department said. Read more here.

As for the progression of the war, Ukrainian defenders have held Russians back from encircling the capital, Kyiv, and going farther into the country elsewhere, but strikes have continued, and civilians have lost their lives. So far, thousands of Ukrainian civilians have died in this war, including over 2,500 just in the besieged city of Mariupol, where access to basic utilities such as running water and supplies including medicines have been seriously impacted by Russian attacks.