While ten billion euros worth of property and assets belonging to Russian oligarchs have been frozen within the European Union since the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, many targeted personalities still manage to evade penalties. Known, and still effective, tricks include moving yachts around international waters and transferring ownership to front men or front companies.

To counter this phenomenon, the European Commission presented Wednesday, May 25 a device supposed to propose a community response, while the criminal qualifications differ to date according to the country. Thus, for twelve Member States of the European Union, this offense is criminal, in thirteen others it can be considered an administrative offense depending on the seriousness of the alleged acts, while in two States, Estonia and Slovakia, it is simply the subject of an administrative sanction.

Believing that this dispersion of the law facilitates impunity, Brussels proposes adding the violation of sanctions to the list of “eurocrimes”, which include acts of serious crime, such as terrorism and human trafficking, and to the advantage of having a cross-border character. The adoption of this new category must be voted unanimously by the Twenty-Seven, which makes the process complicated, in particular because of the ambiguous position of Hungary, always reluctant to sanction Russia.

If the European Commission reaches a global agreement, it could then establish a common legal rule punishing these “sanctions violators”, confiscate their property and sell it if convicted. The directive also plans to target intermediaries helping oligarchs circumvent sanctions, such as lawyers and bankers.

The confiscation and liquidation of Russian assets would make it possible to finance the reconstruction of Ukraine, an idea defended by the United States, Canada or even Poland, but which poses legal problems. “If we start confiscating property on a shaky legal basis, many of these decisions could be overturned by the courts within months and we would be the laughing stock of the Kremlin,” warned German Conservative MEP Markus Ferber. This thorny subject must be raised during the extraordinary summit organized by the member countries of the European Union, on 30 and 31 May next.