Debates on the legality of assets expropriation continue, with many arguing it could become a dangerous precedent © Getty Images / A Mokhtari

The EU working group that deals with the issue of confiscating frozen Russian assets will have to be “innovative” in approaching the task, Swedish diplomat and head of the EU’s “freeze and seize task force,” Anders Ahnlid, told AFP on Friday.

According to Ahnlid, “it is a challenge to find legal means that are acceptable” to expropriate the assets in order to use them for the reconstruction of Ukraine, which is the task force’s plan. He noted that precedents for such actions are rare, one of the few being the seizure of Iraqi assets by the US at the end of Saddam Hussein’s regime.

“Hopefully, we can achieve results during Sweden’s EU presidency [which ends in June]… But these are complicated matters. There will be short-term and long-term aspects of what we’re doing,” the diplomat warned, adding that his working group will have “to be a bit innovative in order to move forward.”

He noted that the task force is still trying to determine “which assets are we talking about and where are they.” There are two types of assets – state property that belongs to the Russian government and private assets. The former mostly refers to nearly $300 billion in Russia’s foreign currency reserves, which have been frozen by the West. According to Ahnlid, they are easier to seize legally. The latter, however, are much harder to identify and can be seized only in a few cases, for instance when they can be proven to be the proceeds of a crime. The diplomat says the task force may decide not to confiscate these assets permanently, but only seize income or interest on the capital.

Ahnlid is not the first to point out the difficulties surrounding the plan to confiscate Russian assets. The Swiss government, for instance, has been opposed to the move, saying last month that it would violate international agreements and Switzerland’s constitution.

US looks to seize Russian corporate jet US looks to seize Russian corporate jet

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has also been openly skeptical, warning that apart from legal obstacles, such a step could be considered a precedent jeopardizing faith in the Western financial system and the dollar. According to her, countries could become reluctant to keep money in US banks, fearing that their funds could be seized as well. Many analysts also point out that the move could put European and American assets at risk, as they could also be in danger of being confiscated in case of an international dispute.

Moscow, meanwhile, has repeatedly called the freezing of its assets “theft,” and warned of countermeasures should Western states attempt to take Russian-owned funds and redirect them to Ukraine.

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