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27 March, 2023
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The Cypriot oligarch and passports

The Commission has put forward a mechanism to ensure the implementation of targeted sanctions for the Russian invasion

by George Kakouris

On the first day of the invasion, Thursday, February 24, as Ukrainian cities were being bombed by the Russian army, Vladimir Putin met with 37 businessmen and members of his government to assess the impact of sanctions already imposed by the United States and members of the European Union. At least one Cypriot citizen was reportedly present at the meeting, according to the official list of sanctioned persons released by the EU on March 9, 2022. His name, according to the Official Journal of the EU, is Vadim Nikolaevich Moskovic. He is the founder of the company Rusagro Group, which produces pork, fats and sugar, as well as a minority shareholder of Sberbank, Russia's largest bank that was placed on the US sanctions list but is currently out of the EU sanctions.  According to the same sources, Mr. Moskovic holds a Russian and a Cypriot passport.

there should be cooperation at the EU level to identify those who "assist in financing actions against Ukraine or engage in illegal activities within the EU"

Although there is no indication as to whether this individual is linked to the Cyprus Investment Program, this development as well as the UK sanctions against Roman Abramovich, a Portuguese passport holder, raise questions about how the EU will manage the long-standing presence in the economies of representatives of the Russian business and political ruling class - with ties to President Putin himself. At the same time, the Commission has activated, from Friday, a mechanism to coordinate the imposition in practice in all EU Member States of targeted sanctions against Russian oligarchs involved in financing or organizing the invasion of Ukraine, according to an official who spoke to Kathimerini about the need for effective implementation of the measures.

The resolution and Cyprus

A few days ago, the European Parliament, taking advantage of the sign of the times, stepped up its pressure on the Commission, by voting in favor of a large majority resolution calling for legislation to ban the practice of "golden passports" and to strictly regulate its practice of the "Golden visa" scheme, given its abuse by Russian oligarchs and politically and criminally exposed people from other countries.

Justice Commissioner Didier Raders even sent the message again from the plenary stage that, in addition to the abolition of the program, Cyprus should check all the nationalities that have already been granted Cypriot citizenship.

It is worth noting that in December the Commissioner had mentioned in an interview with Kathimerini that he closely monitors the progress of the abuse of these schemes. A representative of the Commission also reminded Kathimerini that the infringement procedure against Cyprus remains open and that "the Commission will not hesitate to take further steps in the process". Speaking to Kathimerini, the author of the report, Dutch MEP Sophie in 't Veld, however, stressed that the current regulation provides for the possibility of imposing sanctions on a person who is a citizen of an EU member state.

In other words, having a passport or visa "does not protect against sanctions". From what Kathimerini understands from conversations with informed sources, the targeted measures in the EU. apply regardless of nationality. However, the decision as to whether a person holding the citizenship of a Member State can enter the EU is the responsibility of the Member State.

in 't Veld: "Transparency is needed"

The February 24 meeting in the Kremlin was a meeting place for many of the oligarchs and businessmen on the EU sanctions list. According to the Official Journal of the EU, Vadim Moskovich "is active in economic sectors that provide a significant source of revenue for the government of the Russian Federation.  The fact that he was invited to attend this meeting proves that he is a member of Vladimir Putin's inner circle and that he supports or implements actions or policies that undermine or threaten the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine, as well as the stability and security in Ukraine."

Dmitry Arkadyevich Mazepin, a Belarusian-born but Russian citizen, owner and CEO of the Uralchem ​​mineral fertilizer company, was added to the list on March 9, citing the fact that he was one of the people who attended the meeting on February 24.

According to the Official Gazette, "in December 2021, Dmitry Mazepin re-registered his companies, Uralchem ​​Holding and CI-Chemical Invest, based in Cyprus, which control Uralchem, under Russian jurisdiction of Oktyabrsky of the Kaliningrad region, as an offshore company on the island".  "We do not have a list of people who have received passports - maybe others have (EU) citizenship but we do not know," commented MEP Sophie in 't Veld, answering a question from Kathimerini and the fact that the sanctions also include people with EU citizenship. The Liberal (MEP) MEP also referred to the example of Roman Abramovich, who is subject to sanctions in the United Kingdom and was found to have a Portuguese passport.

Although she was skeptical about whether there was an adequate legal basis for the seizure of assets at the national level (as these are the responsibility of the Member States), Ms. in 't Veld referred to a 2014 regulation which states the possibility of sanctions against an EU citizen "although, as she said, the Commission sends mixed messages on the subject. The MEP also stressed that, as stated in the report approved by Parliament, the process of checking the history of applicants for citizenship or residence permits against investments is perforated. "What exactly should you do?" Call the Kremlin and ask? If you have to rely on principles, how does the process work? " she wondered. The answer according to Mrs. in 't Veld is stepping up controls in such a way that these programs are not attractive to people with suspicious motives. Regarding the infringement proceedings, the MEP stressed that "they are not a structural solution" and that this is why the legislative regulation of the issue is urgent.

Taskforce for oligarchs

Answering a question on how to ensure the implementation of sanctions against oligarchs, a community source told Kathimerini that there should be cooperation at the EU level to identify those who "assist in financing actions against Ukraine or engage in illegal activities within the EU". In practice, the same source said, the Commission has set up a special Freeze and Seize Task Force, which started operating on Friday. The task force will aim to ensure coordination of the actions of national law enforcement and national judicial authorities to identify, freeze and, where possible, seize Russian and Belarusian resources on the sanctions list. In particular, this group will promote the coordination of the Member States, Eurojust (judicial cooperation), Europol (police cooperation) and Eu-LISA (justice systems cooperation). In a related development, on Friday, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced that a coordination meeting would be held next week on the implementation of sanctions between the Ministers of Justice, Interior and Finance of the G7 members.

[This article was translated from its Greek original]

Cyprus  |  oligarchs  |  sanctions  |  Ukraine  |  Russia

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