The House of Representatives has an idea of what to do with seized Russian real estate: sell it.
The House passed nonbinding legislation on Wednesday, urging President Joe Biden’s administration to confiscate and sell the assets, the New York Times reported. Only eight representatives voted against the essentially symbolic bill.
The bill calls on Biden’s administration to create an interagency working group, which will then discuss how Biden can seize assets of Russian oligarchs sanctioned because of the war in Ukraine.
While the bill doesn’t compel the administration to liquidate seized assets, it is something Biden’s team has been thinking about. Earlier this week, Attorney General Merrick Garland expressed support for legislation that would allow the administration to confiscate and sell Russian real estate and yachts, and use that money to fund military and humanitarian efforts in Ukraine.
Granting Biden’s administration the ability to sell off Russian assets for Ukrainian aid would be unprecedented, should a more binding measure come to pass. Experts are debating if Biden needs new statutory authority from Congress to do that.
Biden previously stated his desire to “hunt down and freeze the assets” of Vladimir Putin’s cronies in his State of the Union address. But luxury real estate’s lax ownership disclosure laws and openness to foreign buyers present a challenge, as does any forfeiture fight that has to go through the courts.
To succeed in a legal fight, the government needs to show the funds tied to the real estate were derived illegally. Some oligarchs could try to avoid a messy forfeiture battle by selling the assets before they can be seized.
At the beginning of the war, The Real Deal analyzed property records, published reports and other data sources to map where wealthy Russians have bought and sold luxury real estate in the United States. Not all of the people involved are directly tied to Putin and the Kremlin.
[NYT] — Holden Walter-Warner