The experience of the crisis concerning transit to the Kaliningrad region has shown that the authorities of individual member states can interpret EU sanctions very broadly. It cannot be ruled out that the new features of the seventh package will receive similarly broad interpretations. It is necessary to be ready for a scenario where the property of individuals and structures in the EU is confiscated, as well as their criminal prosecution in certain EU countries for violating sanctions legislation, writes Valdai Club Programme Director Ivan Timofeev.
The seventh package of the European Union sanctions against Russia in connection with the events in Ukraine will be remembered for its ban on the import of Russian gold, the expansion of export controls, as well as its list of blocked individuals and organisations. However, an important new feature hasn’t been thoroughly discussed. In Art. 9 Council Regulation EU No. 269/2014, a rule was introduced that sanctioned individuals are required to report to the competent authorities of an EU country about their assets in the jurisdiction of the European Union. The deadlines are stringent. Reports must be submitted before September 1 of this year. Those who are slapped with sanctions in the future must report within six weeks. In addition, blocked persons are obliged to cooperate with the competent authority in the verification of this information.
Let’s recall that the essence of blocking sanctions is that the assets of individuals and organisations that fall under them in the EU are frozen. In other words, they formally remain the property of such persons, but their use is forbidden. These assets may include bank accounts, real estate, capital goods, vehicles, etc. In addition, blocked persons are prohibited from providing “economic resources”. This essentially means a ban on most economic relations with them.
What is the meaning of this new feature? Most likely, the EU authorities want to facilitate the search for the assets of blocked persons. They specify that the sanctioned individuals themselves should do this “legwork.” If they refuse to comply by reporting their assets, then according to Art. 9 of the said Regulations, their actions will be regarded as circumvention of the sanctions regime. In turn, violation of the Regulations may lead to criminal liability and the confiscation of property obtained as a result of the circumvention of the sanctions. Article 15 of the Regulation obliges Member States to develop criminal prosecution measures for violation of the EU sanctions regime, as well as to take all necessary measures to confiscate the proceeds of such a violation. In other words, by failing to report their assets in the EU, blocked persons risk being sued, facing criminal charges, or losing their property.
The West has actively discussed the confiscation of the assets of blocked Russians since February 2022. Work on legal mechanisms is underway in the United States. In Canada, the forfeiture framework has been approved by the Senate.
Now that the seventh package of sanctions has been adopted, a similar mechanism is now being seen in the EU, albeit in the context of circumventing sanctions due to failure to provide information.
It is not yet clear how these rules will be applied. However, the existing legal mechanism may well be interpreted by the member countries in a way that is detrimental to the sanctioned individuals. To date, 110 legal entities and 1,229 individuals have been targeted by EU blocking sanctions over the Ukrainian issue. While not everyone has property in the EU, for others, the value of the assets may be huge, and attempts to confiscate or prosecute will inevitably cause new political tensions. For example, within the framework of the seventh package, Rossotrudnichestvo, which has a network of Russian centres of science and culture in the EU countries, was blocked. The same applies to the Russkiy Mir Foundation and its Russian Centres in the EU countries. It can be assumed that Sberbank and a number of other blocked Russian banks, enterprises and individual entrepreneurs have assets in the EU. Access to their property should be blocked by EU authorities anyway. The new rules of the seventh package also add the risks of confiscation in the event of a lack of reporting within the specified timeframe or a refusal to cooperate with the competent authorities.
The experience of the crisis concerning transit to the Kaliningrad region has shown that the authorities of individual member states can interpret EU sanctions very broadly. It cannot be ruled out that the new features of the seventh package will receive similarly broad interpretations. It is necessary to be ready for a scenario where the property of individuals and structures in the EU is confiscated, as well as their criminal prosecution in certain EU countries for violating sanctions legislation.