By Masood Farivar
A multinational task force created in March as part of Western efforts to press Russia to end its invasion of Ukraine says it has blocked or seized more than $30 billion worth of assets owned by Russian oligarchs.
In addition to confiscating luxury yachts, jets, mansions and other assets belonging to allies of Russian President Vladimir Putin, the task force, known as REPO, says it has frozen about $300 billion in Russian Central Bank reserves.
“REPO’s work is not yet complete,” the group said in a joint statement released Wednesday. “In the coming months, REPO members will continue to track Russian-sanctioned assets and prevent sanctioned Russians from undermining the measures that REPO members have jointly imposed.”
The U.S. departments of Justice and Treasury launched REPO (Russian Elites, Proxies and Oligarchs) on March 16 as part of sweeping international sanctions on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine. Besides the United States, its members include Australia, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the European Commission. REPO members work together to investigate and prosecute Putin allies and seize their assets.
In addition to REPO, the U.S. Justice Department has set up an interagency task force for this purpose, called Task Force KleptoCapture, while the European Commission has created its own Freeze and Seize Task Force to enforce international sanctions on Russia.
To date, Task Force KleptoCapture’s effort has resulted in significant asset seizures.
In April, Spanish authorities, acting at the request of the Justice Department, seized a $90 million super yacht owned by Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg.
In May, Fijian law enforcement seized a $300 million yacht owned by another sanctioned Russian oligarch, Suleiman Kerimov. The 106-meter luxury Amadea arrived in San Diego Bay on Monday, the Justice Department said.
1,000-plus individuals sanctioned
Between them, the U.S. and the European Union have sanctioned hundreds of Russian entities and over 1,000 Russian individuals since the start of the war in Ukraine. In the latest move on Tuesday, the Treasury Department announced sanctions against 70 Russian entities, many deemed critical to Russia’s defense capabilities, and 29 Russian individuals.
That’s on top of a U.S. ban on imports of Russian oil and a recently imposed embargo on gold imports from Russia — punitive measures intended to deprive Moscow of the funds to underwrite its war on Ukraine.
“We continue to increase Russia’s cost of its war,” REPO members said. “We remain committed to fully implementing and enforcing our economic and financial sanctions and remain vigilant against sanctions evasion and circumvention.”
Meanwhile, the U.S. and its Western allies are debating what to do with the frozen Russian assets.
While the lion’s share of the $300 billion in frozen Russian Central Bank reserves are held in European banks, tens of billions are located in the U.S.
The Ukrainian government says it wants them for postwar recovery. Last month, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the cost of rebuilding his country’s economy and infrastructure could run up to $600 billion and demanded war reparations by Russia.
Several European nations such as Lithuania and Estonia have backed Ukraine’s call for a transfer of the seized Russian assets to Ukraine.
But President Joe Biden’s administration has been more circumspect on whether the Russian Central Bank reserves should be handed over to Ukraine.
Instead, the Justice Department has asked Congress for expanded authority to forfeit Russian assets and transfer some of the proceeds to Ukraine.
In April, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that would “encourage the use of sanctioned Russian assets to help rebuild Ukraine,” according to Democratic Representative Tom Malinowski, who sponsored the legislation. The Senate version of the bill has yet to make its way out of the Foreign Relations Committee for consideration by the full chamber.