Seizing Oligarch Assets
Russian-owned super-yachts were prime seizures by countries targeting Putin’s inner circle of oligarchs, as assets targeted for dishonest gains, by countries like Switzerland and Monaco. While asset identification is difficult, can countries seize them? As the Ukraine conflict rages after Russian invasion, many countries target wealth of Russian oligarchs and corrupt officials. Joe Biden received warm bi-partisan applause during his State of the Union address in March after saying that the USA and allies would seize ill-gotten wealth.
European Measures for Hidden Wealth
The numerous targeted individuals include key oligarchs, military officials, prominent journalists, and lawmakers supported by Putin’s regime. The Finance Minister of France announced that even their children, partners and property holding companies cannot hide behind complex ownership structures used to shield assets.
Even Switzerland and Monaco, both countries that ask few questions about assets deposited, joined the fight against such individuals. Several European nations in are popular with rich Russians. The UK is their favourite due to universities, renowned schools, and superb financial, legal, and management sectors. Russian oligarchs invest in luxury properties in France, Italy and England. These include Chelsea, Kensington, Hampstead, among the London suburbs, France’s south coast, and Alpine resort areas but precise data on involved properties are lacking.
Civil Asset Forfeiture in USA
Asset seizures require lengthy processes than sanctions in all countries due to complicated processes involved. For overseas crimes in the USA, a warrant to seize property prevents the owner from selling the asset. These crimes include corruption and drug trafficking. For permanent confiscation of property, prosecutors file civil asset forfeiture complaints in the property jurisdiction.
Prosecutors show property linkage to criminal activity funds, but oligarchs never show up in court to hide identities, enabling government to win such cases but after years! As these cases proceed at snail speed, the criminals never appear at trials as American law does not need them for civil claims to continue.
Finding Hidden European Wealth
The task of hiding their wealth is not done by Oligarchs, but by teams of wealth managers. Despite adherence to anti-money laundering regulations, these lawyers, accountants, art dealers, do not report assets and transactions to the authorities. Credit Suisse failed to report billions of euros deposited in accounts from corrupt and criminal activities which the bank denies. According to EU lawyers, identifying hidden wealth from the concealed structures is extremely difficult, requiring several years. Spain, France, and Italy seized some jets, villas and yachts. Italy has aggressively seized assets worth 780 million euros, including a super-yacht worth 530 million euros.
Task Force for International Cooperation
Russian billionaires control 30% of Russia’s wealth, and $ 800 billion, is hidden offshore, equal to the wealth of the Russian population. An international task force to uncover funds sources and identify hidden assets, known as REPO, that stands for the Russian Elites, Proxies, and Oligarchs Task Force includes the European Union, Japan, Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Canada, , and the U.K. The USA created a KleptCapture Task Force to assist international efforts against Russian elites. But asset seizures are few, with little effect on Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. The USA offers monetary rewards for data about assets, to send funds to help Ukraine. The Russian elite are moving their floating palaces to safe havens like the Maldives and Dubai.