Over the weekend, in response to Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine under the direction of President Vladimir Putin, the US has joined Western allies in imposing economic sanctions on the Russian government and Russian oligarchs. These oligarchs, a small group of extremely wealthy (and infamously corrupt) individuals that have strong ties to Putin and the Russian government, are the target of a new task force of the US Justice Department called “KleptoCapture,” which will attempt to confiscate their “ill-begotten gains,” as President Biden put it in his State of the Union speech on Tuesday.
We believe these Russian oligarchs should be held accountable for the damage they have caused the people of Ukraine and Russia. But democracy isn’t just under attack from Russian oligarchs.
The US has oligarchs of its own, and they are no less dangerous to our way of life. They have used their wealth to accumulate vast amounts of political power, and with that power, they rigged our economy and brought our democracy to its knees.
The federal government’s active work against Russian oligarchs in the last few days has shown us that we have the tools to hold these dangerous billionaires accountable and to both track and take possession of assets they wish to hide from the government (for tax purposes or otherwise). We just need the political will to do so.
This week we’re shining a spotlight on oligarchy and what we can do to prevent it, both in Russia and at home.
U.S. launches ‘KleptoCapture’ task force aimed at Russian oligarchs by Sarah N. Lynch
The new federal KleptoCapture task force will go after wealthy Russian oligarchs as a way to pressure the Russian government to end the war in Ukraine. Multiple federal agencies – including the FBI, the U.S. Marshals Service, the Secret Service, the IRS, and more – will work together to enforce economic sanctions against Russian oligarchs by freezing and seizing assets held by these individuals in the West. President Biden even made a note of this commitment in his State of the Union address: “We are joining with our European allies to find and seize your yachts, your luxury apartments, your private jets. We are coming for your ill-begotten gains.”
The U.S. sanctions on the Russian oligarchs miss the richest of the rich by The Associated Press
The economic sanctions against Russian oligarchs will have some effect, but unfortunately probably won’t go far enough to stop Putin in his tracks. Most of the richest Russians – like Roman Abramovich and Alisher Usmanov – who famously hold assets in the West will go largely unaffected by sanctions. Most oligarch wealth (both Russian and otherwise) is held offshore in tax haven countries more protected from government intervention. By one estimate, Russian oligarchs have stashed more than $800 billion of their wealth in countries like the United Kingdom, Switzerland, and Cyprus, meaning these sanctions have many of the same limitations of modern tax enforcement – we can’t get to their money without further international cooperation.
We Should Seize the Yachts of Russian Oligarchs. And Western Ones too. By Edward Ongweso Jr
Why won’t Western leaders do more to go after the offshore wealth holdings of Russian oligarchs? Because they wouldn’t want to do something that could end up hurting their own financial interests. It’s true that Russian oligarchs hold disproportionately more of their wealth offshore than other global elites, but many Western business and political leaders – oligarchs in their right – park a great deal of their wealth there too. Hunting down Russian offshore holdings would create a precedent or an impetus to go after those held by Western elites. They wouldn’t want this to happen, so this is probably why we won’t see the West go after Russian offshore holdings as aggressively as they should.
Sanders Rips Into Billionaires for Creating “Oligarchic” Society in US by Sharon Zhang
The conversation about oligarchs isn’t just confined to Eastern Europe – last month, Senator Bernie Sanders gave a speech on the Senate floor where he sarcastically “congratulated” billionaires and CEOs in America on becoming so rich as to form an oligarchic society in the US. To further his point, he highlighted excessive billionaire wealth made during the pandemic, extreme CEO-to-worker pay ratios, and price-gouging behavior on the part of corporations.