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What should Canada do with this Russian tycoon’s money?

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Who should get Roman Abramovich’s money?

That’s part of the question that’s emerging as the Canadian government moves to seize the assets of sanctioned Russian businesses and oligarchs.

This week, Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly announced the government would make an application to seize and forfeit about $36 million from Granite Capital Holdings Ltd., a firm owned by Abramovich.

The Russian tycoon is close to President Vladimir Putin and had been the owner of the Chelsea Football Club in England until May. He has a net worth of $8.7 billion and been also sanctioned by the U.K., EU, Australia and Switzerland, according to the Forbes magazine.

Global Affairs Officials said the order to seize the asset has been issued and a court application will be filed in 30 days in the province where the asset is based.

It’s the first time Canada is using new authority, granted in the budget bill in June, to pursue the seizure of assets belonging to sanctioned individuals.

“We have warned Putin and his enablers that they would not be able to hide from the consequences of their actions. … Canada will continue to pressure the Russian regime and those who have benefited from Putin’s barbaric invasion of Ukraine,” Joly said in a statement.

But the initial move has raised the obvious question of what ought to be done with seized funds.

Advocates have an idea. They say such funds should be used to help vulnerable Ukrainian women and children who have been displaced and are now living in Canada.

In recent weeks, the World Refugee and Migration Council has been working with other groups, including the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, for ideas about how confiscated assets can be directed to meet the pressing needs of the Ukrainian people.

“Could we establish a special program for disabled Ukrainians or for women and children who were being abused or violated? We talked about the whole idea of making this one of the priorities,” said the refugee council’s chair, Lloyd Axworthy, a former Canadian foreign affairs minister.

“This is becoming a very real possibility … that you take the bad guys’ money and give it to the good people.”

While the priorities should focus on the displaced Ukrainians currently in Canada, Axworthy said, the next step is then to see how this can actually help those in Ukraine itself.

He said the council is leading the discussion on different ideas about the allocation of the seized resources in hopes to draft a partnership proposal with other organizations early next year.

Meanwhile, some are criticizing the federal government for not moving fast enough to take possession of the millions of dollars it could. They want Canada to step up its investigation and enforcement efforts.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, more than 1,500 individuals and entities from Russia, Ukraine and Belarus have been added to Canada’s sanctions list.

As of Dec. 20, the RCMP said a total of $122 million of assets held by concerned parties in Canada have been frozen and $292 million in financial transactions have been blocked under the sanctions against Russia. The amounts were about the same as reported in June.

“We’ve seen the government not yet come up with a huge amount. They’ve been stuck at $120 million over the past six months. We certainly believe that there’s more that can be found and more investigations can be undertaken,” said Ihor Michalchyshyn, CEO and executive director of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress.

“How do we spend this money? There’s plenty of demands in Canada. Certainly, the Ukrainian government and state is also looking at reconstruction needs and other things. I just worry that we haven’t yet identified enough money to even be a small part of those needs.”

In October, the federal government announced to invest $76 million to beef up Canada’s sanctions regime through a dedicated bureau at Global Affairs Canada and additional support to the RCMP to investigate and identify assets and gather evidence.

Meanwhile, the immigration department has received almost 736,000 applications from displaced Ukrainians for emergency travel to Canada and more than 456,000 have been approved. Since January, 230,000 Ukrainian nationals, including some Canadian permanent residents, have arrived.

Communities across Canada have welcomed the new arrivals helping them get everything from food to shelter and winter clothes. Still many challenges remain in their settlement, according to Michalchyshyn, because they are only temporary residents and have limited access to government support.

“The majority of people are working and transitioning to learning better English and French. They’re really interested in building a life in their community for whatever time they’re here,” he said.

“The challenges have been mostly about the scale (in terms of) how many people are coming and our capacity in Canada to receive large numbers of people.”

Settlement agencies are under a lot of pressure, particularly in providing housing, child care and language training to the new arrivals, Michalchyshyn said.

Source: Toronto Star