January 27, 2023

Athens News

News in English from Greece

Ukrinform: Greece and Malta are in no hurry to freeze Russian assets

The Ukrainian news agency Ukrinform complains that Greece and Malta have frozen Russian assets worth only 359,000 euros.

“According to the official representative EU and an internal document, Greece and Malta are well behind their European Union counterparts in freezing Russian assets sanctioned over Moscow’s war against Ukraine, as the bloc considers using those assets to help Kyiv. Reutersto which the Ukrainian agency refers.

It is noted that at the moment, 27 EU countries have reported freezing about 20.3 billion euros (22 billion dollars subject to Russian assets sanctions. At the same time, countries such as Italy, Ireland, France, Spain, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and Austria each froze more than 1 billion euros, “For comparison: Greece announced an asset freeze in the amount of 212 thousand euros, and Malta – 147 thousand euros,” the report says.

According to an EU official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, this state of affairs is surprising. “Either they (Greece and Malta – ed.) do not have much, or they do not do their job. Or they did something, but did not tell us, although they had the opportunity,” he said.

A representative of the Greek authorities said in a commentary to the agency that 212 thousand euros are all assets that Athens has identified based on the EU sanctions list. “Greece’s investment environment is not conducive to the inflow of Russian capital and offshore companies,” the official added.

A spokesman for Malta’s prime minister said the country had helped other European countries seize assets such as yachts registered in Malta but physically elsewhere. “Malta has done a great job in support of the overall European effort,” the spokesman said, adding that the fall in Malta’s trade with Russia once again demonstrated Valletta’s commitment to implementing EU decisions.

As the agency notes, this year the attention of the EU is focused on whether frozen Russian assets should be used, incl. frozen 300 billion euros of Russian central bank assets to help rebuild Ukraine. The bloc’s leadership is expected to be able to announce progress on these issues during its visit to Kyiv for the Ukraine-EU summit on 3 February.

How will Russia respond?

In the event of a real confiscation by the European Union of the property of Russian citizens and state reserves of the Russian Federation, Moscow will take “adequate” response measures, Maria Zakharova, official representative of the Russian Foreign Ministry, warned about this on November 30, 2022. At the same time, she noted that now she cannot say what these measures will be – mirror, symmetrical or asymmetric. This will depend on what specific actions will be taken in relation to Russian assets. “But they will be reciprocal and real, nothing will remain in words, and the responsibility for their consequences, including for the interests of European business, will lie solely with Brussels,” Zakharova stressed.

Earlier about the discussion in Germany of the possibility of confiscating Russian assets to help Ukraine wrote Bloomberg. According to the sources of the agency, there is no final position on this issue yet, some members of the ruling coalition are more determined than others. Among the possible options, it is proposed to confiscate the assets of those Russians whose involvement in the “military special operation” * in Ukraine has been proven, Bloomberg pointed out.

Earlier in October, the European Council instructed European Commission “to present options in accordance with EU and international law aimed at the use of frozen assets [России] to support the reconstruction of Ukraine”. In November, EC head Ursula von der Leyen also suggested confiscate Russian assets to help Ukraine. According to her, €300 billion of the Bank of Russia and €19 billion of Russian “oligarchs” are frozen in the EU.

In the spring, after the start of the war in Ukraine, the US Department of Justice created the KleptoCapture task force to track down and seize the assets of Russian businessmen. The group pursues, among other things, superyachts around the world. Since the spring, Western governments have seized more than a dozen yachts they link to Russian billionaires. According to Bloomberg, the cost of the blocked ships is at least $4 billion. It was a PR success for Western governments, but legally and financially it is “a complete mess,” the agency notes.

Bloomberg calls the superyachts of Russian billionaires “a symbol of opaque outrageous wealth.” According to him, Russian billionaires bought through offshore companies registered in tax havens such as Bermuda or the Cayman Islands, some of the largest yachts in the world. According to the SuperYacht Times, some of the yachts of Russian billionaires do not fit the category of superyachts, these are yachts over 262 feet (about 80 meters) in length. Such yachts are called mega- or gigayachts; out of 153 existing vessels of this category, Russians own about 30. The remaining 123 yachts, incl. mega-(giga)bill gates yachts, Paula Alena and other American billionaires, apparently, are not “a symbol of opaque outrageous wealth.”

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