US approves first transfer of seized Russian funds to Ukraine

The Biden administration has sought increased powers to send seized assets from Russian sanctions evaders to aid Kyiv.

US Attorney General Merrick Garland launched a task force to target Russian oligarchs in wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine [File: Nathan Howard/AP Photo]

United States Attorney General Merrick Garland has authorised the first transfer of funds seized from Russian oligarchs to aid Ukraine.

In a statement on Wednesday, Garland said the money seized from Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeyev will go towards the war-torn country, which Russia invaded on February 24, 2022.

“While this represents the United States’ first transfer of forfeited Russian funds for the rebuilding of Ukraine,” Garland said, “it will not be the last.”

Last year, the US Department of Justice charged Malofeyev with violating sanctions imposed on Russia. Prosecutors said he provided financing for Russians promoting separatism in Crimea, a peninsula the country annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

At that time, Garland also announced “the seizure of millions of dollars from an account at a US financial institution traceable to Malofeyev’s sanctions violations”.

Following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, Garland announced a new task force, dubbed KleptoCapture, that specifically targeted Russian oligarchs who sought to evade the deluge of US sanctions imposed against Russian entities.

“We will leave no stone unturned in our efforts to investigate, arrest and prosecute those whose criminal acts enable the Russian government to continue this unjust war,” Garland said at the time.

Among the assets seized by Washington was a fleet of superyachts, including a 106m (348-foot) vessel owned by Suleiman Kerimov valued at over $300m, which had been docked in Fiji.

US President Joe Biden, meanwhile, called on Congress last year to make it easier to transfer seized oligarch assets to Ukraine.

In December, Congress passed a law that allowed certain assets seized by the Justice Department to be funneled to Ukraine via the US Department of State.

In April, the Justice Department asked Congress to expand the assets that can be sent to Ukraine, particularly funds seized for violating export controls.

At the time, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said Washington was “leaving a lot of money on the table”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies