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European Commission proposes to confiscate assets of Russian oligarchs who violate sanctions

Should we confiscate the Russian assets that the sanctions against Moscow have made it possible to freeze within the European Union (EU) since the start of the war in Ukraine? While the country is a little more destroyed every day under the aggression of the Kremlin, they could help, when the time comes, to finance its reconstruction. On Wednesday 25 May, the Commission must make a first contribution to this reflection, which is as complex legally as it is politically. It must indeed present a device which will make it possible to seize some of the yachts, villas and other bank accounts of the more than a thousand Russian personalities and oligarchs to date targeted by European sanctions.

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“It is already possible to confiscate the property of people under sanction who are found to have been convicted of a criminal activity, such as money laundering”, notes Didier Reynders, the European Commissioner for Justice. To identify them, it is necessary to cross the list of Russian personalities under sanctions and that of the European Office of Police Cooperation (Europol). “A few weeks ago, when some 600 Russians were under sanction, we found 150”he continues.

Moreover, judges the Commission, since the Twenty-Seven have unanimously decided to take sanctions against the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, the Russian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Sergei Lavrov, as well as many other oligarchs and their families, they must consider their violation a crime. Today, within the EU, only twelve countries have made it a criminal offense (Denmark, France, Croatia, Cyprus, Latvia, Luxembourg, Hungary, Malta, Netherlands, Portugal, Finland, Sweden), which s comes with a substantial penalty. The others provide for relatively small or even negligible fines.

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“Legislation must be harmonized”

In this context, the Community executive proposes to include the violation of sanctions in the list of “eurocrimes” identified by the European treaties, alongside terrorism, trafficking in human beings, sexual exploitation of women and children, illicit drug or arms trafficking, money laundering, organized crime, computer crime and counterfeiting of means of payment. Therefore, Member States will have to make it a criminal offence.

This decision of a new Eurocrime must be taken unanimously by the Twenty-Seven. A simple formality, wants to believe the Commission, which does not imagine Hungary, despite its proximity to the Kremlin, opposing it, since it voted the first five packages of sanctions. But on February 4, when France proposed, after the October 2020 assassination of Professor Samuel Paty, that the “hate speech” is also a “eurocrime”, Budapest had vetoed it, arguing that it was a matter of its national sovereignty.

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