The European Commission suggested on May 25 decided that defying European Union sanctions against Russia is a crime. This decision is a move that would enable the EU governments to seize assets of individuals and companies that dodge EU restrictions against Moscow.
Breaking EU sanctions against Russia is currently a criminal offense in twelve EU countries. It is either a criminal or administrative offense in thirteen and two treat it only as an administrative offense, Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders said. Penalties for breaking sanctions across the EU differ respectively.
The Commission proposal intends to unify that approach to make sanctions evasion a serious offense in all members of the 27-nation bloc, he told a news conference. It said in a statement:
“Today’s proposals aim to ensure that the assets of individuals and entities that violate the restrictive measures can be effectively confiscated in the future.”
The EU has until now frozen more than 20 billion euros in bank accounts and 10 billion euros in physical assets of Russian oligarchs helping the Kremlin’s war effort in Ukraine.
But before these assets could be seized and sold off, the oligarchs would first have to be found guilty of either attempting to evade sanctions or of other crimes, and the assets confiscated would have to be connected to that crime only.
The new EU law, which has to be unanimously accepted by all EU governments and get a majority in the EU parliament, would also fine those who help defy the sanctions, like bankers or lawyers working with those who evade restrictions.
The Commission also recommended making it generally easier to seize assets of criminals in the EU, making it possible to enforce an immediate freezing order to stop the assets from being transferred before a proper court order determines it.
Notably, the Commission approximates annual revenues of criminal gangs in the EU at 139 billion euros, only two percent of which is frozen by authorities. Only 50% of the frozen assets are later seized.
“With the new directive, we will be much more efficient in that,” Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said.
Most EU countries need sufficiently strong legal frameworks to confiscate criminal assets, making it simpler for criminals to stash their resources and gain from illegal activities.