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A year of tracing Russian dirty money: Enthusiasm to target kleptocratic assets seems to wane as governments struggle to report on progress

Transparency International is calling on governments that have pledged to track down sanctioned Russian elites’ wealth to be publicly accountable about the measures they have taken over the past year – both individually and collectively. As the one-year anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine approached, Transparency International attempted to obtain information on Western governments’ progress in tracing kleptocratic assets. The information we were able to gather so far indicates that governments need to get more serious about targeting illicit wealth stashed within their borders. They also need to collect and release the data in a more systematic manner, enabling civil society and the wider public to evaluate the impact of their efforts.

Transparency International approached over a dozen jurisdictions with requests for statistics on the sanctioned individuals and entities, frozen assets, and initiated legal proceedings. The responses we have received so far indicate that, despite high public interest, such information is not always readily available even to the agencies responsible for sanctions implementation. Concerningly, responsible agencies in Australia and the United Kingdom rejected our requests, citing lack of data or the need for significant manual work to extract it from various documents. The response received from France, while partial for now, stood in contrast with its quicker turnaround and level of detail that allows scrutiny by civil society. Awaiting further responses, Transparency International will release our findings at a later date.

Earlier this month, Transparency International also sent a letter to governments making up the Russian Elites, Proxies, and Oligarchs (REPO) Task Force, urging them to provide a detailed account of progress as well as obstacles hampering their work. While the public is vaguely aware that assets worth billions have been frozen worldwide, we have yet to learn about the impact of this joint effort – including to assess its potential for the wider fight against transnational corruption.

Maíra Martini, corrupt money flows expert at Transparency International, said:

“The launch of an international task force offered the promise of a new model for disrupting transnational corruption. But one year has passed and we still don’t know if these efforts have been effective. The intermittently released figures on blocked assets may seem impressive but likely represent a small fraction of all Russian dirty money hidden across the world. They also aren’t increasing much with time.

“Governments need to be honest about the challenges they face in tracing and seizing the assets. They also need to explain what’s preventing them from pursuing further accountability measures – including confiscation – in relation to potentially illicit assets. This can help us better understand what reforms are needed.”

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Update: We added a reference to the response received from the United Kingdom shortly after publication.