DOJ announces task force to target Russian oligarchs’ assets

(WASHINGTON) — The Justice Department on Wednesday announced a task force to target the assets of Russian oligarchs after President Joe Biden previewed the move in his State of the Union address Tuesday night.

“The United States Department of Justice is assembling a dedicated task force to go after the crimes of the Russian oligarchs,” Biden said. “We are joining with European allies to find and seize their yachts, their luxury apartments, their private jets. We’re coming for your ill-begotten gains.”

The U.S. says the oligarchs have ties to President Vladimir Putin and he uses them to launder or hide hundreds of millions of dollars obtained through corruption.

Dubbed Task Force KleptoCapture, the group will investigate and prosecute new sanctions, combat unlawful efforts to undermine restrictions taken against Russian financial institutions by Russians who flout the restrictions, go after oligarchs who use cryptocurrency to evade U.S. sanctions and seize the assets of Russian oligarchs.

The department says it will bring “cutting edge” resources from the deputy attorney general’s office and will be led by a career prosecutor out of the Southern District of New York.

“The Justice Department will use all of its authorities to seize the assets of individuals and entities who violate these sanctions,” said Attorney General Merrick Garland in a press release. “We will leave no stone unturned in our efforts to investigate, arrest, and prosecute those whose criminal acts enable the Russian government to continue this unjust war. Let me be clear: if you violate our laws, we will hold you accountable.”

The Task Force is designed to ensure the “full effect” of sanctions leveled against the Russian government, “which have been designed to isolate Russia from global markets and impose serious costs for this unjustified act of war, by targeting the crimes of Russian officials, government-aligned elites, and those who aid or conceal their unlawful conduct,” the Department says.

Even if Russian oligarchs can’t be prosecuted in the United States, DOJ will still seize assets including personal real estate, financial and commercial assets. DOJ says they will work with their European counterparts around the world to ensure these objectives are met.

The move has bipartisan support.

Last week, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., floated the idea of a DOJ task force seizing Russian assets, calling it the “number one priority” of the supplemental funding bill.

“It is now time for that crowd to lose their yachts loose their luxury apartments, and to pay a price for being part of a thuggish group,” Graham said.

ABC News Allison Pecorin contributed to this report.

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