Mar 28, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Senators seek to repurpose Russian assets for Ukraine aid

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Sens. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) are introducing a bill to repurpose funds from seized Russian assets for a relief fund benefitting Ukrainian refugees and Ukraine's reconstruction, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: The bipartisan effort is another sign Congress is keeping close tabs on the blizzard of sanctions imposed on Russia by the Biden administration. In this case, it's also taking the next step to clarify who should benefit and how.

Driving the news: The bipartisan bill, dubbed the RELIEF for Ukraine Act, stands for Repurposing Elite Luxuries into Emergency Funds.

  • It would direct money from liquidation of assets seized by the new Department of Justice KleptoCapture task force into a Ukrainian relief fund.
  • That, in turn, would be used to support Ukrainian refugees, Ukraine’s reconstruction and other efforts.
  • The fund would be administered by the State Department, in consultation with the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The big picture: On March 2 — just days after the start of the Russian invasion — Attorney General Merrick Garland launched Task Force KleptoCapture.

Its aim is to seize the assets of anyone violating U.S. sanctions, and prosecute the banks or cryptocurrency exchanges aiding and abetting Russian oligarchs.

  • They're targeting assets tied to federal crimes — like the jets, yachts and luxury real estate of wealthy Russian businessmen that may have been obtained through criminal activity — and trying to seize them through civil and criminal forfeitures.
  • Leading the effort is Andrew Adams, a federal prosecutor and co-head of the money laundering and transnational criminal enterprises unit at the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s office.

What they're saying: “Right now, Ukraine is experiencing the worst refugee crisis since War World II — they need our help," said Portman, the ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee.

  • "One way to help is to move from freezing the assets of Russian oligarchs and wealthy citizens to seizing their assets, and providing that funding to people of Ukraine to help with ongoing humanitarian efforts," he added.
  • “Our bill makes [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and Russian oligarchs pay the price by ensuring that funds from their seized assets go directly to the Ukrainian people to support them through many difficult years ahead of resettlement, reconstruction and recovery," said Bennet.
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