Commission to make sanctions evasion an EU crime

The European Commission will present in two weeks a legal proposal to make the evasion of sanctions an EU crime — a step that will help member countries confiscate assets frozen as part of the sanctions campaign against Russia, two officials with knowledge of the proposal said Wednesday.

The Commission will make this proposal under a treaty provision that allows countries, in coordination with the European Parliament, to “establish minimum rules concerning the definition of criminal offences and sanctions in the areas of particularly serious crime with a cross-border dimension.” That step, in turn, would provide countries with the legal basis to seize frozen assets, the officials said.

As of April, EU countries have seized around €30 billion in assets, including yachts, villas, and art belonging to sanctioned individuals and entities. This figure has likely increased since.

Discussions have been ongoing on whether these assets could be seized, as POLITICO reported last month. The catch has been that asset seizure is a matter of national law, which differs in every country. For some countries, sanction evasions is a criminal offense, but not so in other countries. The Commission’s proposal — which would require unanimity among EU capitals as well as the consent of a majority of MEPs — aims to harmonize this legal patchwork.

The question of what to do with the assets or their proceeds would be up to EU countries, said the officials, who added that discussions are continuing on whether to divert these funds to Ukraine.