Next step for EU and US sanctions: Seizing the assets of Russian oligarchs (Update: $600 million yacht seized)

Next step for EU and US sanctions: Seizing the assets of Russian oligarchs (Update: $600 million yacht seized)

Last weekend the White House announced it would put together a task force aimed at freezing the assets of Russian oligarchs.

There was a report Monday that some oligarchs were already moving their yachts in an effort to avoid this:

Data reviewed by CNBC from Marine Traffic shows that at least four massive yachts owned by Russian business leaders have been moving toward Montenegro and the Maldives since a wide array of sanctions were announced in recent days by leaders from around the world, including the U.S. Treasury targeting Russia’s central bank. The Maldives doesn’t have an extradition treaty with the U.S., according to Nomad Capitalist.

Last night, President Biden affirmed his intention to seize the assets of the oligarchs which represents a significant portion of the wealth of Russia.

America’s sanctions are expected to be more complicated than those imposed by the E.U., targeting not just the individuals but also their family members and companies they own, according to a White House official, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity to reflect internal deliberations. President Biden said in his State of the Union address on Tuesday night that the U.S. would join with Europe to “seize their yachts, their luxury apartments, their private jets.”…

Russia’s billionaires control roughly 30 percent of the nation’s wealth — compared with roughly 15 percent in Germany and the United States — and have about as much financial wealth stashed in offshore foreign accounts as the entire Russian population has in Russia itself, according to a 2017 paper released by the National Bureau of Economic Research. Many of them have served at high levels of Putin’s government, or played an instrumental role in providing financing either for the Russian president personally or the Kremlin’s efforts abroad, according to E.U. officials…

More sanctions may be on the way. A bipartisan group of lawmakers wants the Biden administration to impose sanctions on the “Navalny 35,” a list of Putin allies identified by a group tied to Russian dissident Alexei Navalny. That would amount to a dramatic expansion in the number of individual Russian business elites targeted for sanctions.

The goal here isn’t just to freeze assets but to seize them and sell them. For the moment, the hitch in this plan is finding those assets. At present, property owned by oligarchs is likely hidden in a maze of shell companies. There is a law that could erase the anonymity of these shell companies and reveal the Russian owners but a Treasury regulation that would allow that to happen hasn’t been enacted yet.

Treasury is working to implement a law passed by Congress in January 2021 to put an end to anonymous shell companies that can be used for illicit ends by requiring companies registered in the United States to disclose their owners to the federal government…But the Treasury Department regulation that would implement the law has not been enacted, meaning any anonymous shell companies owned or controlled by Russians can still benefit from a veil of secrecy.

Finally, the Financial Times reports the UK has plans on the drawing board to seize Russian assets in the UK without compensation.

UK cabinet minister Michael Gove is drawing up plans to seize British property owned by Russian oligarchs with links to President Vladimir Putin, without paying them compensation…

Boris Johnson, UK prime minister, who was accused by Labour on Wednesday of failing to take sufficient action against Putin’s allies following his invasion of Ukraine, is said to be supportive of Gove’s plans to seize the land and property of sanctioned oligarchs.

The proposals are likely to require legislation, and government lawyers have concerns the plans would be subject to legal challenges because they would undermine UK property rights. No final government decision has been reached on whether to proceed.

It remains to be seen if these efforts will matter to Vladimir Putin but Rep. Tom Malinowski told the Post, “The more we can make the sanctions feel like a shock and awe campaign, the better.”

Update: Just saw this from Forbes.

Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov was sanctioned by the European Union on Monday. Two days later, Forbes has learned from three sources in the yacht industry that one of his prized possessions—the 512-foot yacht Dilbar, valued at nearly $600 million—has been seized by German authorities in the northern city of Hamburg…

Usmanov purchased Dilbar in 2016 for a reported cost of $600 million from German shipbuilder Lürssen, which custom-built it for him over 52 months. The firm calls it “one of the most complex and challenging yachts ever built, in terms of both dimensions and technology.” At 15,917 tons, it’s the world’s largest motor yacht by gross tonnage, and is typically manned by a crew of 96 people. Dilbar boasts the largest swimming pool ever installed on a yacht as well as two helicopter pads, a sauna, a beauty salon, and a gym. Its plush interiors have more than 1,000 sofa cushions and it can host up to 24 people in 12 suites.

Here’s what it looks like.

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