The idea of using frozen Russian billions to rebuild Ukraine has found support from politicians, including in Europe. But one expert lawyer says the practice is legally complex. Supporters include European Council President Charles Michel and former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
The USA and Canada are further along in this process. There was recently passed a law allowing the state to seize frozen Russian assets. A year ago, the British government froze nearly £18bn of assets belonging to Russian oligarchs. 27 member states of the European Union confiscated approximately 300 billion euros in Russian money.
“The invasion of Ukraine finally draws the attention of leaders to oligarchs, tax evaders and criminals who park their money in European cities,” said British investigative journalist Oliver Bullough. “We are talking about billions of pounds of Russian-owned property in London.”
It earned the British capital the nickname “London”. “Sanctions are not enough,” Bullough said. “We must use this capital to help Ukrainians rebuild their destroyed infrastructure, their destroyed homes and their shattered lives.”
It marks Witanhurst, the second largest private residence in London after Buckingham Palace. Russian businessman Andrey Guriev is the owner of the mansion with 25 bedrooms, a conservatory and a large swimming pool. The British government imposed sanctions on the billionaire fertilizer boss after he invaded Ukraine.
Guided tours past the “wrong” buildings
Bullough has dealt with financial misconduct for years and is the author of the bestselling Moneyland – Why Thieves And Crooks Now Rule The World & How To Take It Back. Together with the Russian dissident Roman Borisovich, he organizes “klepto tours” in “fake” oligarchic buildings that have been largely “frozen” since the war.
The tour includes Athlone House, a Victorian manor house in north London with five acres of Versailles-style gardens. Russian-Israeli billionaire Mikhail Fridman bought it for around £65m, but after renovation and expansion the property is now worth around £130m. And then there is 5 Belgrave Square, a $10 million property bought by Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska in the heart of London. It’s frozen now too.
“These businessmen were able to get so rich in Russia only because they did business with the Russian government,” says Roman Borisovich. This binds them to the regime,” he said.
But many legal experts warn that frozen property and bank balances are not easily confiscated. According to Michael O’Kane, a lawyer specializing in financial sanctions, this has no legal basis. One of the obstacles is property rights under the European Convention on Human Rights. The UK also has to comply.
“Assets will be frozen. However, before expropriation, you must prove that the assets were acquired through crime. Doing business in Russia was legal until February 24, 2022, when the war began. Can you confiscate someone’s property for activities you have previously considered? was it legal and accepted without evidence or trial? They must first prove that the assets were obtained through crime, and that will be very difficult.”
There is another point to consider, says Attorney O’Kane. “The idea behind sanctions is to change behavior. In this case, it is a way to put pressure on the Russian government. If you confiscate property, what incentive or incentive remains to change behavior?
Karen Clayton is a seasoned journalist and author at The Nation Update, with a focus on world news and current events. She has a background in international relations, which gives her a deep understanding of the political, economic and social factors that shape the global landscape. She writes about a wide range of topics, including conflicts, political upheavals, and economic trends, as well as humanitarian crisis and human rights issues.