World Refugee & Migration Council Welcomes Government of Canada’s Efforts to Seize Assets of Sanctioned Oligarch to Assist Ukraine

20 December 2022 (Ottawa) — The World Refugee & Migration Council (WRMC) welcomes and applauds the Government of Canada’s decision to launch proceedings to seize and pursue the forfeiture of US $26 million from Granite Capital Holdings Ltd., a company owned by Roman Abramovich — a Russian oligarch sanctioned under the Special Economic Measures (Russia) Regulations.

Extraordinary situations sometimes call for unprecedented measures. The illegal Russian invasion of Ukraine and wanton destruction of that country, which has led to a massive loss of life and the forcible displacement of millions of Ukrainians is such a situation. The seizure of assets belonging to individuals who have been sanctioned sends an important message to Russian President Vladimir Putin regime that Canada will hold his regime accountable for its crimes against the people of Ukraine.

“Canada is demonstrating global leadership by taking bold and decisive action to hold Putin accountable for his crimes against the Ukrainian people. I firmly hope that other countries will follow Canada’s lead as they should.”

— WRMC CHAIR LLOYD AXWORTHY

In our 2019 report, A CALL TO ACTION, the WRMC called on governments around the world to “use the frozen assets of perpetrators [of forcible displacement] and direct them for the benefit of the people in the country of origin, including those who have been forced to flee their communities.” The Council argued that “acting on this proposal would both increase available funding and enhance accountability by eliminating the impunity of corrupt kleptocrats.” 

That concept was developed in a series of working papers and reports issued by the Council, including its applicability to Canadian laws and jurisdiction. The concept served as the basis for a private member’s bill in the Canadian Senate, which was introduced by Council member Senator Omidvar, an Independent Senator from Ontario. Subsequently, the Government’s own new measures, which were passed into law by Parliament in June 2022 as part of Bill C-19, applied the confiscation and repurposing concept when it enhanced two of Canada’s sanction regimes, the Magnitsky Act, and the Special Economic Measures Act (SEMA). 

In recent weeks, the Council has been working with the Ukrainian National Congress and other groups to develop ideas about how confiscated assets can be directed to meet the pressing needs of the Ukrainian people. Some of the potential legal options are also discussed in a recently published, joint research paperundertaken by the Council in collaboration with the International Lawyers Project and Spotlight on Corruption. 

The Government’s decision announced yesterday is bold but necessary. WRMC Chair Lloyd Axworthy observes that “Canada is demonstrating global leadership by taking bold and decisive action to hold Putin accountable for his crimes against the Ukrainian people. I firmly hope that other countries will follow Canada’s lead as they should.”

Photo: MIKHAIL SVETLOV/GETTY IMAGES