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German prosecutors break new ground with request to seize Russian entity’s €720 million

Germany’s Chief Federal Prosecutor takes a historic move to seize €720 million in Russian assets held by a Moscow exchange subsidiary in a German bank account. This comes in response to a company’s attempt to hide funds, signaling a major shift from asset freezing.
Germany’s Attorney General Peter Frank. December 2022. Photo: dpa

The German Federal Prosecutor’s office has filed an unprecedented request seeking to confiscate over 720 million euros ($750 million) in Russian funds currently held in Germany. According to Spegel, the prosecutor submitted the seizure request to a Frankfurt court in order to transfer the frozen assets to Germany’s national budget.

The Russian funds in question belong to a subsidiary of the Moscow Stock Exchange which was sanctioned by the EU in June 2022 following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. On the day the sanctions listing was published, the Russian entity allegedly attempted to withdraw the over $750 million it had deposited with J.P. Morgan’s German office by transferring it to an affiliated Russian firm. However, the transaction did not go through, given the new EU sanctions.

“The seizure represents a new dimension in the enforcement of international sanctions against Russia. Until now, the German state has only frozen the funds and assets of sanctioned individuals and companies,” Spiegel wrote.

If granted by the Frankfurt court, this would represent the first time German authorities have seized sanctioned Russian funds rather than just freezing assets. Germany has faced criticism for barely enforcing Ukraine war sanctions on wealthy Russians. But federal prosecutors argue that by attempting to evade EU sanctions, the permanent confiscation of the funds is legally warranted.

With Germany struggling to track down Russian oligarch assets hidden behind shell companies, seeking the forfeiture of known sanctioned entities’ holdings sets an assertive precedent. Prosecutors assess that identifying perpetrators responsible for sanctions evasion attempts in this case is unlikely, allowing the state to potentially claim the seized millions.

The forfeiture request comes amidst calls for spending sanctioned Russian funds held in the EU on Ukraine reconstruction. But if approved, the 720 million euros would flow into Germany’s general budget for discretionary spending rather than directly aiding Ukraine.

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