Charles Michel calls for confiscation of sanctioned Russian assets

European Council President Charles Michel said he wants EU countries to confiscate sanctioned assets to make Russia pay for its wartime damage to Ukraine.

Michel laid out his hope of seizing the sanctioned assets — totaling tens of billions in cash, real estate, yachts and other property — in an interview with the Interfax-Ukraine news service published Thursday. Michel acknowledged that such seizures would entail an excruciatingly difficult legal process, across the national legal systems of all 27 member countries, and he offered no details about how it might be accomplished.

Michel’s comments echoed a proposal put forward last week by U.S. President Joe Biden to streamline the seizure and forfeiture of Russian oligarchs’ sanctioned assets.

“Personally, I’m absolutely convinced that this is extremely important not only to freeze assets but also to make possible to confiscate,” Michel said in the interview. “In my opinion, this is a question of fairness,” he added, “to make this money available … especially for the rebuilding of the country. It’s a question of fairness, a question of justice.”

In the interview, Michel said he had asked the Council’s legal service to come up with “some ideas in order to find a legal solution in line with the principles of rule of law that would facilitate and make possible the confiscation of the assets of the people who are sanctioned by the EU or by other countries in the world.”

But it was far from clear that even the EU’s best lawyers would find a magical solution.

While EU countries decide together on which sanctions to impose, and upon whom, the measures are implemented at a national level, where they are subject to national laws and legal challenges. Sanctions can also be challenged in the Court of Justice of the European Union, where the EU has frequently lost such cases. Officials with checkered reputations, such as former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, have won sanctions-related lawsuits against the EU.

“It takes time,” Michel conceded in the interview. “It’s a difficult and long process.”

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