United States President Joe Biden is requesting from Congress new powers to seize and repurpose Russian oligarchs’ assets.
The request is part of a larger funding proposal for aid for Ukraine as it continues to try to repel Russia’s invasion launched on February 24.
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In a statement, the White House described the proposal as a “comprehensive legislative package” saying it will “enhance the United States Government’s authority to hold the Russian government and Russian oligarchs accountable for President Putin’s war against Ukraine”.
Among the measures, Biden has asked legislators to make it a criminal offence for a person to “knowingly or intentionally possess proceeds directly obtained from corrupt dealings with the Russian government”.
The measures would also double the statute of limitations for foreign money laundering offences to 10 years, expand the definition of “racketeering” under US law to include efforts to evade sanctions and allow the federal government to use the proceeds from selling the seized assets of sanctioned Russian oligarchs to help the people of Ukraine.
The White House announced the plan on Thursday, shortly before Biden will formally ask for billions of dollars in additional US spending earmarked for supplying Ukraine’s military during an address at the White House.
He will also ask for funds to bolster Ukraine’s economy and support the millions of refugees who fled Russia’s invasion two months ago.
In a virtual address to International Monetary Fund and World Bank leaders last week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called for the proceeds of sanctioned property and Central Bank reserves to be used to compensate Ukraine for its losses.
He said that frozen Russian assets “have to be used to rebuild Ukraine after the war as well as to pay for the losses caused to other nations”.
Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen said at the time that congressional action would be needed to authorise such actions.
To date, the war has caused more than $60bn in damage to buildings and infrastructure, World Bank President David Malpass said last week. And the IMF in its latest world economic outlook stated that Ukraine’s economy will shrink by 35 percent this year and next.
In recent weeks, the US and global allies have sanctioned dozens of oligarchs and their family members, along with hundreds of Russian officials involved in or deemed to be supporting its invasion of Ukraine.
The White House has said the new tools will toughen the impact of the sanctions on Russia’s economy and its governing class by making sanctions more difficult to evade.
Meanwhile, the funding request will come atop $13.6bn that Congress approved last month in military and economic aid to assist Ukraine and other allies in the region to deal with the fallout of a war now in its ninth week.