WASHINGTON (CN) — Escalating the West's efforts to isolate Russia economically as a punishment for starting a war in Ukraine, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced Wednesday the launch of a multi-agency task force targeting Russian oligarchs.
“Even if defendants cannot be immediately detained, asset seizures and civil forfeitures of unlawful proceeds — including personal real estate, financial, and commercial assets — will be used to deny resources that enable Russian aggression," Garland said in a statement Wednesday.
Dubbed “Task Force KleptoCapture,” the operation comes as Russia continues its catastrophic bombing of cities across Ukraine while it slowly moves a massive convoy of weaponry closer to the capital Kyiv in preparation to assault the heavily guarded city of 3 million people.
“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,” Garland said Wednesday.
On Tuesday evening during his first State of the Union address, President Joe Biden had warned Russian billionaires that the task force would be coming for their yachts, luxury apartments, private jets and other wealth.
Garland said Wednesday that such assets are subject to criminal and civil forfeiture authorities.
“The Task Force will be fully empowered to use the most cutting-edge investigative techniques — including data analytics, cryptocurrency tracing, foreign intelligence sources, and information from financial regulators and private sector partners — to identify sanctions evasion and related criminal misconduct,” according to the Justice Department's statement.
Outfitting the task force will be more than a dozen prosecutors cobbled together from various federal law enforcement agencies, including the National Security and Criminal Divisions of the Justice Department, the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and the FBI, IRS and Secret Service.
The task force will work against Russian efforts to avoid U.S. sanctions issued against Russian financial institutions and look into cryptocurrency transactions. It will prosecute Russians for violations of both sanctions issued in response to the Ukraine invasion as well as those issued against Russia for prior acts of aggression, on top of those targeting Russians who try to evade know-your-customer and anti-money laundering measures.
“To those bolstering the Russian regime through corruption and sanctions evasion: we will deprive you of safe haven and hold you accountable,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said in a statement Wednesday. “Oligarchs be warned: we will use every tool to freeze and seize your criminal proceeds.”
Task Force KleptoCapture will collaborate with the transatlantic task force created last week in a collective effort by the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and leaders of the European Commission — all of whom have voiced support for Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Wednesday continued to urge his people to resist Russian invaders. He has declared martial law in the country, ordered all males between the ages of 18 and 60 to fight and stopping them from leaving the country. Ukrainians are being told to attack Russian troops with Molotov cocktails, guns and any other means.
Ukraine and Russia share a 1,000-year history and both trace their cultural and religious origins to Kyiv, a city now poised to come under siege as a reportedly 40-mile-long convoy of tanks, armored vehicles and rocket launchers moves toward the capital. The convoy has progressed slowly, likely to allow for refueling and other preparations and to give the government in Kyiv a chance to surrender.
Delivering his Tuesday night address at a time that his administration is grappling with stalled domestic agendas and low approval ratings, President Biden framed Russia's invasion of Ukraine as an opportunity to forge American unity.
"Six days ago, Russia’s Vladimir Putin sought to shake the foundations of the free world thinking he could make it bend to his menacing ways. But he badly miscalculated. He thought he could roll into Ukraine and the world would roll over. Instead he met a wall of strength he never imagined. He met the Ukrainian people," Biden said.
Biden condemned Putin, calling him a “dictator,” and made a vigorous defense of Ukraine Tuesday night, but was adamant that American troops would not get involved in the conflict.
Meanwhile, congressional Democrats and Republicans have shown signs of bipartisan support for providing $6.4 billion in aid to Ukraine and neighboring countries in their fight against Russia.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.