MPs must fast-track new law to seize sanctioned Russian assets: senator

An independent senator is asking the House of Commons to fast-track a new law she is proposing that would confiscate billions of dollars in frozen Russian assets and use them to rebuild Ukraine.

Senator Ratna Omidvar’s bill – titled ‘An Act respecting the diversion of certain seized, frozen or sequestered property’ – is expected to pass the Senate, meaning it will soon be headed to the House of Commons where MPs elected will decide his fate.

Canada’s current array of sanctions laws allow assets to be frozen, but provide no legal authority to take that money and use it for other purposes, such as rebuilding a battered country.

Canada has joined international allies in sanctioning more than 1,100 Russian individuals and entities to punish President Vladimir Putin and his supporters – wealthy oligarch enablers – for the February 24 invasion that reduced vast Ukraine swept into rubble and forced millions to flee their homes.

Omidvar said the images of destruction emerging from Ukraine make it essential to enact legislation to start confiscating money before parliament adjourns for the summer in June.

“I think immediacy and urgency are so important that we need to expedite this bill, enact it and apply it to the situation in Ukraine as soon as possible,” she said in an interview.

Under Omidvar’s proposed legislation, frozen funds would be reallocated to support victims of Russian attacks. This would be a legal rarity in the international financial landscape.

Senator Ratna Omidvar, left, poses with Senator Rosemary Moodie, center, and Senator Peter Harder outside the Senate Chamber in Ottawa on February 19. Under Omidvar’s bill, frozen money would be reallocated to support victims of Russian attacks, which would be a legal rarity. (Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)

“Every house that is bombed has victims, and victims who flee, victims who are injured, victims whose lives are destroyed, and there is absolutely no way to help them. Under the current circumstances, the coffers of everyone are empty,” she said.

As the meeting of G7 finance ministers wrapped up in Washington on Friday, the group acknowledged that the US$84 billion already spent to help Ukraine since Russia seized the Crimean peninsula in 2014 n were just the start.

“In the context of the ongoing brutal Russian aggression, the accompanying suffering for the people of Ukraine and the continued destruction of the country itself, we stand ready to do more if necessary,” the G7 ministers said. .

Focus on targeting “enablers”

Joining her Ukrainian counterpart Sergii Marchenko in Washington on Friday, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said that “winning the war and after that rebuilding Ukraine will be a huge task. this decade for all rules-based democracies. Sergii, I want you to know that Canada will play its part.

Marchenko said he was “looking forward to finding a way” to transfer frozen Russian assets to a “Ukrainian fund to rebuild Ukraine, to get Ukraine back.”

Omidvar said a key feature of his bill is the creation of a central registry to find where the money is hidden and to help target “enablers” – accountants, lawyers and financial advisers, among others – who help wealthy Russians loyal to Putin hide and launder money.

Although this information is difficult to obtain, she believes that there is a lot of money to be found on Canadian soil.

“Even without a list, given Canada’s good financial governance, we are also a safe haven for dirty money,” Omidvar said.

As an example, she cited Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, who is a major shareholder in Evraz, a British multinational manufacturing company that operates a steel mill in Regina.

Abramovich is the owner of a major British football team and was part of London’s high society before facing international sanctions last month, including from Canada.

Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich was sanctioned in March for his ties to the Russian government and his invasion of Ukraine. He is a major shareholder in Evraz, a British multinational manufacturing company that operates a steel mill in Regina. (Martin Meissner/Associated Press)

“I have no proof,” Omidvar said. “But suffice it to say that it’s a good guess that in fact Canada’s anti-money laundering laws play a role in all of this, and that there will be money to be found here to reuse it. .”

Omidvar said she hoped to have all-party support in the Commons to push her bill through before the summer recess.

She is also encouraged by a commitment, albeit vague, in Freeland’s recent budget that signals that the government is prepared to take action to seize the assets of those who have been sanctioned.

“In partnership with our allies, Canada formed the Task Force on Russian Elites, Proxies and Oligarchs (REPO) and committed federal resources to work with our partners, both foreign and domestic, to target Russian assets and the ill-gotten gains of Russian elites and those who act on their behalf,” the budget states.

“This includes using resources to identify, freeze and seize assets to ensure that sanctioned individuals and entities are no longer able to access their overseas resources and wealth.”

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