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Government International Law Regulation White Collar Crime

Questions Surround Expanded Government Authority to Seize Russian Assets

The purpose behind the Biden Administration's proposals to seize assets of Russian oligarchs is to punish a specific action by a state actor — Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The proposals, however, do not appear to be limited to this conduct alone and would outlast Russia’s invasion. In times of war, it at least arguably may be appropriate to pass laws to expand the executive’s authority to address specific hostile conduct. Such laws, however, should end with the conflict.

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In late April 2022, riding a wave of bipartisan political support, the Biden administration and House of Representatives proposed expanding the executive branch’s authority to freeze, seize, and forfeit to the people of Ukraine assets of individuals perceived to be aligned with the Russian government. These proposals seek to punish the Russian government’s contemptable invasion of Ukraine, which has resulted in catastrophic levels of destruction and horrendous numbers of civilian casualties — including some caused by potential war crimes, a global refugee crisis, and a potential global food crisis. By going after the assets of those who, historically, have benefited from political allegiance to the regime of Vladimir Putin, political leaders hope to pressure Putin to reconsider his egregious actions. The goal is laudable, but pursuing it by expanding the reach of asset forfeiture — a domain that has been subject to justifiable criticism in recent years — and by expressly tying forfeitability to historic political support of a nation-state, raises some serious procedural and substantive questions.

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