Today, the Biden Administration announced a legislative proposal aimed at empowering the U.S. government to seize and forfeit property linked to Russian elites. Specifically, the proposed system would enhance and streamline the seizure and forfeiture of Russian oligarch assets and provide for the liquidation and redistribution of proceeds to support Ukraine. The announcement unveiled the following items as part of the proposed legislative package:
- Establishment of an interagency process for forfeiture of Russian oligarch property connected to unlawful conduct, with forfeiture decisions appealable to a Federal Court on an expedited basis;
- Criminalization of the knowing or intentional possession of proceeds derived from corrupt dealings with the Russian Government;
- Direction of forfeited funds derived from corrupt practices and violations of U.S. export laws violations to Ukraine;
- Authorized forfeiture of seized property used to facilitate violation of sanctions rules;
- Designation of sanctions evasion as a “racketeering activity” under the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act, which would subject perpetrators to intensive Department of Justice investigation and prosecution;
- Increase of the statute of limitations for money laundering prohibitions and post-conviction forfeitures from 5 to 10 years;
- Enhancement of cooperation between the United States and allies by improving authorities to enforce foreign restraint and forfeiture orders.
The Administration’s announcement arrives amid reports of burgeoning domestic and international enforcement efforts against the property of Russian oligarchs, and demands for greater assistance to Ukraine. There are indications that such measures have found bipartisan support within the United States, as well as reports that the European Union and Canada may implement similar measures to fund Ukraine assistance programs using frozen Russian assets.
A similar bill, authorizing seizure of Russian oligarch property, recently passed in the U.S. House of Representatives, a development that bodes well for the Biden Administration’s proposal.