Brussels, 8 April 2022
Today, the ‘Freeze and Seize Task Force’ is meeting with US and Ukrainian representatives to discuss international cooperation on the enforcement of sanctions.
The Task Force, set up by the Commission last month, has been meeting on a regular basis to ensure better coordination of the enforcement of EU sanctions against Russian and Belarusian individuals and companies. During this week’s meeting, the Task Force will be joined by the Head of US ‘KleptoCapture Task Force’ Andrew Adams, and the Deputy Assistant Attorney General and Counselor for International Affairs at the US Department of Justice Bruce Swartz as well as representatives of the Ukrainian authorities.
Commissioner for Justice, Didier Reynders said:
”In light of the atrocities committed by the Russian army, it is more urgent than ever to strengthen our cooperation within the EU and with our international partners, including the U.S. and Ukraine, and step up our efforts to stop the financing of the Kremlin’s war machine. But let me remind you that adopting sanctions is not enough. It is also important to track our progress and enforce our sanctions policy in practice. I urge all Member States to take all the necessary measures to enforce sanctions and those who have not done so yet to report to the Commission without delay”.
Commissioner for Financial Services, Financial Stability and Capital Markets Union, Mairead McGuinness said:
“Sanctions are crucial for imposing economic pain on Putin’s regime and those complicit in the war. In the face of the Kremlin’s continued brutal aggression our determination to act decisively in support of Ukraine is a strong as ever. Through the Freeze and Seize Task Force and other fora we are coordinating our sanctions with international partners, not least with the US. But implementation is essential for sanctions to be effective on the ground –that is my key priority. We are working hand in hand with Member States to further increase reporting on assets frozen across the EU and sharing best practices, including with international partners. Unity is our strength, both within the EU and with our partners across the world. Together, we stand with Ukraine.”
Almost €30 billion of assets frozen so far
One of the aims of the Task Force is to explore the links between assets belonging to persons listed under EU sanctions and criminal activities. In this context, the Task Force requested all Member States to share information on the assets’ frozen so far in their respective jurisdictions. While work is ongoing and Member States are still in the process of compiling and sharing the information: so far, more than half of the Member States have reported to the Commission the measures taken to freeze assets. They informed about frozen assets worth €29.5 billion, including assets such as boats, helicopters, real estate and artwork, worth almost €6.7 billion. In addition, about €196 billion of transactions have been blocked.
The Task Force will continue to meet regularly, the next meeting will take place on Friday 22 April 2022.
Restrictive measures against listed individuals and companies are part of EU sanctions and decided by the Council and enacted by the Member States. Within the remit of EU sanctions, all assets belonging or controlled by listed persons must be frozen as a temporary administrative measure, without favour or prejudice.
Upon request of Member States’ authorities, Eurojust can coordinate the freezing of assets in an ongoing cross-border case. If assets affect the EU’s financial interests, the European Public Prosecutor’s Office would be competent to investigate and order the freezing of assets.
The Commission set up a ‘Freeze and Seize Task Force’ in March 2022 to ensure coordination among Member States in the enforcement of the Union sanctions against Russian and Belarussian listed individuals and companies, and to explore the interplay between sanctions and criminal law measures. The Task Force aims to provide a platform where Member States can explore whether any of the listed individuals or companies have been involved in criminal proceedings. It will coordinate actions by Member States to freeze and, where the law calls for it, confiscate assets of Russian and Belarussian oligarchs. Member States can also discuss within the Task Force whether any changes to EU legislation on sanctions and confiscation need to be considered.
Commission’s “Freeze and Seize” Task Force steps up work with international partners
The European Commission’s ‘Freeze and Seize’ Task Force, set up to ensure EU-level coordination to implement sanctions against listed Russian and Belarussian oligarchs, has now stepped up its action at international level. It will work alongside the newly established ‘Russian Elites, Proxies, and Oligarchs (REPO)’ Task Force, under which the EU operates together with the G7 countries Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States, as well as Australia.
Cooperation between the European ‘Freeze and Seize’ Task Force and the international ‘REPO’ Task Force is essential to guarantee the efficiency of the sanctions taken on both sides of the Atlantic. The Commission is committed to work closely and coordinate with its partners to ensure effective cooperation on a global level.
Commissioner for Justice, Didier Reynders, said:
“This coordination will make the prosecution of the listed Russian and Belarussian oligarchs in the Union a concrete possibility. Such initiatives are vital to achieve the rapid freezing and confiscation of the assets owned by individuals and entities targeted by the sanctions. We must therefore continue to step up our work together to identify oligarchs who help finance or organise actions in Ukraine, or who pursue illegal activities on the territory of the Union. Our joint action can make a difference globally. It truly shows solidarity and unity in the face of war”.
Commissioner for Financial Services, Financial Stability and Capital Markets Union, Mairead McGuinness, emphasised that: “Our combined measures are having a significant impact – the Russian economy is in free fall. G7 Justice and Finance Ministers committed to the important task of identifying entities and individuals listed across jurisdictions. We need to ensure that those who provide services – financial, legal and others – to oligarchs to facilitate sanctions evasion are fully aware of the risks they run. We will investigate any and all efforts to breach our sanctions legislation and there will be consequences for violations. The focus of our work is to stop money flowing to the Russian war machine. Wealthy oligarchs supporting the Russian war machine need to know that they will not find any safe haven in the EU or elsewhere”.
The ‘Freeze and Seize’ Task Force was set up by the European Commission to ensure the efficient implementation of the EU sanctions against listed Russian and Belarussian oligarch across the EU.
The ‘Freeze and Seize’ Task Force is composed of the Commission, national contact points from each Member State, Eurojust and Europol as well as other EU agencies and bodies as necessary. It will coordinate actions by EU Member States, Eurojust, Europol and other agencies to seize and, where national law allows provides for it, confiscate assets of Russian and Belarussian oligarchs. While the Commission provides strategic coordination, Eurojust and Europol are best placed to ensure operational coordination. The first meeting of the ‘Freeze and Seize’ Task Force took place on 11 March and was chaired by Commissioner Reynders.
Member States explained the measures already taken, the situation on ongoing judicial proceedings and the possibilities for the confiscation of assets under the appropriate legal bases. The first meeting was welcomed by all EU Member States. On 18 March, a second meeting will take place where the participating parties will further discuss their coordination. The Task Force is set to meet weekly. However, the Task Force will reassess this need and will convene other meetings as necessary.
Within the remit of EU sanctions, all assets belonging or controlled by listed persons must be frozen. Today 877 individuals and 62 entities are subject to an asset freeze under EU sanctions in the context of the Russian aggression to Ukraine.
The ‘Freeze and Seize’ Task Force will play an important role in information sharing within the EU and it aims to go one step further: it will coordinate actions by Member States to seize and, where the national law calls for it, confiscate assets of the listed Russian and Belarussian oligarchs. For this purpose, the Task Force will seek coordinated actions between Member States, Eurojust, Europol and other agencies as necessary.
In addition to the European Task Force, there is also the ‘Russian Elites, Proxies, and Oligarchs (REPO)’ Task Force. On Wednesday, 16 March, a ministerial meeting decided on the creation of this international Task Force to ensure the effective implementation of the sanctions, to assist other cooperating nations to locate and freeze assets and to determine the possibility to forfeiture the frozen assets. The participants are the G7 countries, Australia and the European Union.