Biden to propose streamlining how US seizes assets from Russian oligarchs to help Ukraine

Originally Published: 28 APR 22 08:00 ET
Updated: 28 APR 22 08:40 ET

    (CNN) -- President Joe Biden will send a proposal to Congress Thursday outlining a legislative package to further pressure Russian oligarchs over Russia's war in Ukraine, including using money from their seized assets to fund Ukraine's defense, the White House said.

The package -- developed through an interagency process including the Treasury Department, Justice Department, State Department and Commerce Department -- will "establish new authorities for the forfeiture of property linked to Russian kleptocracy, allow the government to use the proceeds to support Ukraine and further strengthen related law enforcement tools," the White House said in a fact sheet.

The proposal is expected to come alongside a request for Congress to approve new supplemental aid for Ukraine, including military, economic and humanitarian assistance that is expected to last through the end of the fiscal year. Biden is set to deliver remarks on offering support for Ukraine at 10:45 a.m. ET in the White House's Roosevelt Room.

While members have agreed that more money for Ukraine is necessary, it's still not clear how the supplemental would move swiftly through Congress nor is it clear how quickly this proposal on oligarchs could move. A likely path would be to tie the two pieces of legislation together, but Republican and Democratic leaders are in the early stages of talks on how to pass the broader funding for Ukraine.

One element of the package would streamline the federal government's efforts for seizing the assets of Russian oligarchs by creating a new administrative process through Treasury and the Justice Department "for the forfeiture of property in the United States that is owned by sanctioned Russian oligarchs and that has a connection to specified unlawful conduct." It would make it a criminal offense for people to "knowingly or intentionally possess proceeds directly obtained from corrupt dealings with the Russian government."

The proposal would also help direct proceeds from "forfeited funds related to corruption, sanctions and export control violations, and other specified offenses to remediate harms of Russian aggression toward Ukraine," with the Justice Department, Treasury and State working together on these efforts. Earlier this week, Attorney General Merrick Garland said the Biden administration would support legislation allowing for some of the proceeds from assets the DOJ seizes from Russian oligarchs "to go directly to Ukraine."

The proposed package would allow for "forfeiture of property that Russian oligarchs can use to facilitate the evasion of sanctions," a shift from the current US law which only allows for the US to forfeit the proceeds of sanctions violations. It also would categorize sanctions evasion as "racketeering activity," extend the statute of limitations for pursuing money laundering prosecutions based on foreign offense from five to 10 years, and would enhance the US ability to work with allies and partners to recover assets linked to foreign corruption.

The President announced last week the US would send an additional $800 million in military assistance to Ukraine as Russia refocuses its campaign to seize new territory in the country's eastern region. Biden made the case that Russia's war has entered what he called a "critical window," making western military aid all the more essential.

If approved, the package announced last week would mean the US has committed approximately $3.4 billion in assistance to Ukraine since Russia's invasion began on February 24.

The President said the package announced last week included heavy artillery weapons, dozens of howitzers -- longer-range weapons -- and 144,000 rounds of ammo for those howitzers and more tactical drones.

The US had earlier this month announced another roughly $800 million security assistance package. That package included Mi-17 helicopters, Switchblade drones, protective equipment to guard against chemical attacks, Javelin anti-tank missiles, M113 armored personnel carriers, counter-artillery radars and body armor and helmets.

In addition to military aid to Ukraine, the US and its NATO allies have issued a slew of sanctions against Russia. The United States, European Union, United Kingdom and Canada have introduced sanctions targeting Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and have banned certain Russian banks from SWIFT, the high-security network that facilitates payments among 11,000 financial institutions in 200 countries.

Biden has announced a ban on Russian oil, natural gas and coal imports to the United States. The House of Representatives has also passed a bill to suspend normal trade relations with Russia.

This story has been updated with additional information.

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