The Biden administration plan to seize the assets of Russian oligarchs hinges on a legislative package that would create new criminal offenses and streamline the process the government intends to use to strip Russian elites of their property to fund American aid to Ukraine, the Associated Press reports. The House on Wednesday was nearly unanimous in passing the Asset Seizure for Ukraine Reconstruction Act.
Under current federal law, only the Justice Department has the authority to determine how seized funds can be spent. And there are strict rules on who can benefit from seized proceeds. The Biden administration wants to make it easier for officials to decide how to use the proceeds of the blocked and seized property. The bill would allow the president to confiscate and liquidate property owned by sanctioned individuals. The money could only be used for specific purposes. The White House proposal also wants to make forfeiture decisions reviewable in federal court on an expedited basis and would create a new criminal offense, making it unlawful for anyone to knowingly own proceeds directly obtained from corrupt dealings with the Russian government. Additionally, property used to facilitate sanctions violations would also be eligible for seizure. The White House says the new tools make sanctions more difficult to evade and the administration said it wants to use the money “to remediate harms of Russian aggression toward Ukraine.” The White House says the Treasury Department has sanctioned and blocked vessels and aircraft worth over $1 billion, and has frozen bank accounts containing hundreds of millions of dollars of assets belonging to Russian elites. During a House committee hearing Thursday, the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network’s acting director, Himamauli Das, said the agency has received 2,000 suspicious activity reports connected to Russian oligarchs. Of those, 271 were forwarded to intelligence and law enforcement and Treasury’s sanctions arm.