Seized syperyaht by Russian oligarch Victor Vekselberg
BRUSSELS, May 24 (Reuters) – The European Commission wants to make it easier to confiscate assets linked to serious illegal activities and suspected criminals, including those evading European Union sanctions against the Kremlin.
The European Commission proposed two EU laws that would require the 27 member states` approval.
One piece of draft legislation seeks new European rules on freezing and confiscating the assets of people blacklisted by the EU. The second legislative proposal aims to expand the list of acts deemed to be “EU crimes” by including breaches of European sanctions.
Both initiatives need the approval of EU governments in a scrutiny process that usually takes many months and can even last for years. The bloc’s heads of government are due to discuss options for using the frozen assets of sanctioned Russian oligarchs to support the reconstruction of Ukraine during a two-day summit on May 30-31.
While the EU has spent decades crafting common rules on various areas of criminal law, European sanctions against Russian leaders and oligarchs over the past three months have added impetus to calls for a stronger European framework.
The EU has imposed asset freezes and travel bans on more than 1,000 people, including over 30 oligarchs, in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24.
Almost 10 billion euros ($10.7 billion) of assets have so far been frozen by EU member countries, according to the European Commission. It has established a “Freeze and Seize” task force to coordinate the enforcement of what are unprecedented EU penalties against Russia.
“EU sanctions must be respected and those trying to go around them punished,” said Vera Jourova, a commission vice-president responsible for the rule of law. “The violation of EU sanctions is a serious crime and must come with serious consequences. We need EU-wide rules to establish that.”
The draft European law on asset recovery and confiscation seeks to bolster cross-border cooperation in the EU. It would require each member country to establish at least one “asset recovery office”, make it easier for authorities to freeze assets and regulate how such property is managed.
This legislative initiative will need the backing of a majority of member-state governments as well as of the European Parliament. By contrast, the parallel proposal to label the violation of European sanctions an EU crime will require the unanimous support of member countries, giving any single one veto power.