Over €1 billion in frozen Russian assets could be seized to pay for the reconstruction of Ukraine, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said.
The State has already frozen €1.2 billion in Russian-linked funds under an extensive EU sanctions regime – but in reply to a parliamentary question, Mr Coveney indicated the State would be open to going one step further and seizing it.
The Opposition is arguing that the funds could also be used to help foot the bill for humanitarian aid given to refugees here, which is projected to cost billions in the next two years.
In response to a question from Labour Party finance spokesman Ged Nash on steps being taken to confiscate frozen assets, Mr Coveney said that sanctions are designed to incentivise changes in behaviour or policy rather than to be punitive.
‘Freeze and seize’
“However, some member states have proposed that assets frozen in the context of the situation in Ukraine could be seized, and used for purposes including the rebuilding of Ukraine,” Mr Coveney said in a written reply, adding that “I have expressed openness to this proposal.”
He cautioned, however, that “it requires extensive further discussions in order to ensure a robust and clear legal basis, as it would be a departure from the current practice”.
In March of this year, Brussels created a “freeze and seize” task force on sanctions, which is considering the interaction between sanctions and criminal law measures, with a view to possibly seizing the assets of those included in the sanctions list where their activities may also breach criminal law.
Mr Nash said it was “fair and reasonable” for the Government to seize the assets “as a matter of urgency”. He said it would be an “expression of our hostility to Russia’s invasion – we should be very clear our next step should be the seizure of the assets of those on the Russian sanctions list”.
He also said there would be a “logic” to funding humanitarian aid within Ireland with the assets. “There should be a direct relationship between the assets that have been frozen and hopefully seized and the provision of services and supports,” he said.
Mr Nash also suggested that if sanctions were to ensnare the Aughinish Alumina plant, it could be a chance for it to be taken over and “either operated by the State or sold as a going concern to experienced operators in that field”.