Brussels plans to help EU countries confiscate assets frozen by sanctions

Measure would make sanctions evasion an EU crime, paving way for authorities to take permanent action.

The European Commission will present a legal proposal to help EU countries confiscate assets frozen as part of the sanctions campaign against Russia, two officials with knowledge of the plan said Wednesday.

The proposal, to be presented in two weeks, would make sanctions evasion an EU crime. That step, in turn, would provide countries with the legal basis to confiscate frozen assets, the officials said.

The measure would be based upon a treaty provision that allows EU countries, in coordination with the European Parliament, to “establish minimum rules concerning the definition of criminal offences and sanctions in the areas of particularly serious crime with a cross-border dimension.”

As of April, EU countries have seized around €30 billion in assets, including yachts, villas and art belonging to sanctioned individuals and entities. This figure has likely increased since.

Discussions have been ongoing on whether these assets could be confiscated, as POLITICO reported last month. The catch has been that asset expropriation is a matter of national law, which differs in every country. Sanctions evasion is a criminal offense in some countries, but not in others. The Commission’s proposal — which would require unanimity among EU capitals as well as the consent of a majority of MEPs — aims to harmonize this legal patchwork.

One official said that the proposal would “extend the legal possibilities for the confiscation of assets without a conviction,” referring to the fact that while sanctions already allowed the freezing of Russian oligarchs’ assets, it was currently much more difficult to permanently expropriate those assets without a trial and conviction.

The question of what to do with the assets or their proceeds would be up to EU countries, said the officials, who added that discussions are continuing on whether to divert these funds to Ukraine.

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