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22 Feb, 2024 18:30

G7 finds ‘experts’ to declare theft of Russian assets legal

Ten lawyers have argued that the seizure would be legitimate due to the Ukraine conflict
G7 finds ‘experts’ to declare theft of Russian assets legal

A group of self-styled “experienced public international lawyers and practitioners” have put together a case for confiscating Russian sovereign funds currently frozen by the US and its allies, saying it would be the appropriate response to Moscow’s “unlawful conduct” towards Ukraine.

Approximately €260 billion ($280 billion) in Russian sovereign funds were frozen by the Group of Seven countries in 2022. The UK and the US have recently demanded the outright seizure of these funds in order to fund the government in Kiev. 

The letter in which the “experts” – from the UK, US, Belgium, France, Germany, Japan and the Netherlands – make their case to the G7 has been obtained by Bloomberg.

“Having given our most serious consideration to this issue, we have concluded that it would be lawful, under international law, for States which have frozen Russian State assets to take additional countermeasures against Russia, given its ongoing breach of the most fundamental rules of international law,” the signatories claimed. 

According to their case, Russian state assets could be seized “as compensation for the damage that has resulted directly from Russia’s unlawful conduct,” which they define as an “invasion” and “occupation” of parts of Ukraine. 

The rules they allege Moscow violated “are indispensable to the foundation upon which the entire rules-based order is built,” the letter states. The group also goes on to argue that the West’s sanctions and freezing of Russian assets were “lawful countermeasures” but that any reprisal by Moscow would be illegal and illegitimate.

According to the letter made public by Bloomberg, the group consists of professors Olivier Corten and Pierre Klein from Université libre de Bruxelles, Belgium; Shotaro Hamamoto of Kyoto University in Japan; Philippe Sands of University College London; Hélène Ruiz Fabri of Sorbonne Law School in Paris; Nico Schrijver Grotius of the Leiden University in the Netherlands; Christian J. Tams of the University of Glasgow in the UK; and Harold Hongju Koh of Yale Law School in the US. Also undersigned are British attorney Paul Reichler and Philip Zelikow, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University in the US. 

Koh “does represent Ukraine before certain international tribunals,” the group has disclosed. He was a US State Department legal adviser during the Obama administration. Zelikow is a former career diplomat who has worked as a “strategic consultant” for the current US administration. Klein was the keynote speaker at a pro-Ukraine webinar on seizing the Russian assets in December.

About two-thirds of the frozen Russian funds are in the EU, whose members are reluctant to seize it as they fear this could set a dangerous precedent and damage the reputation and stability of the euro. 

Moscow has challenged the legitimacy of the Western sanctions and asset freeze. Earlier this month, the Russian Foreign Ministry warned the US and its allies that it would consider them “thieves” and respond with “very harsh” countermeasures should they move to seize the funds.

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