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Ignoring people such as Russian government members and Russian parliament members, I am asking about the legality of the freezing the assets (where susceptible to such freezes) of people who are family, friends or girlfriends of key Russians. Was due process followed in each of the key NATO members (USA, UK, EU etc)? All I can easily find in the media is announcements of such freezes. What sort of laws or International law cover such actions?

Is there any information about when and under what circumstances the freezes would be lifted?

Further suggestions of confiscating such assets are yet another topic I am not raising here.

I remember that after the First World War, the victors were punctilious about restoring assets to individual Germans and companies (not to the German state). For example, paying royalties on German patents on weapons technology that the victors "borrowed" to defeat the Germans.

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  • I guess the idea is that Putin might be able to move part of his wealth within his family and friends easily. So in order to target him, sanctions have to also include his family and friends. The legality will probably simply provide room for that. A good answer will probably deliver the details.
    – Trilarion
    May 9 at 16:23
  • 1
    Related to your "Is there any information about when and under what circumstances the freezes would be lifted?" question: politics.stackexchange.com/questions/71312/… (By the way, it's not a good idea to ask multiple questions in one post.)
    – Fizz
    May 9 at 17:14
  • And I think the difference between patent holders and those closely associated with the power structures was observed in the aftermath of WW2 as well, even with some "in between" cases like IG Farben.
    – Fizz
    May 9 at 17:21
  • OTOH things like Nazi art hasn't been returned newyorker.com/news/news-desk/…
    – Fizz
    May 9 at 17:27
  • Related question about the situation in the U.S.: law.stackexchange.com/questions/79177/…
    – adam.baker
    May 10 at 6:06

3 Answers 3

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This question is way too broad to answer for all of NATO, but for the US, I believe the relevant laws are US Code, Title 50, Chapter 35. Specifically, 1702.a.1.B gives the President the authority to freeze assets, if he declares an emergency as per 1701.a. 1702.a.1.C, on the other hand, lets him confiscate assets, but only in the case "when the United States is engaged in armed hostilities or has been attacked by a foreign country or foreign nationals". As of yet, that hasn't happened, so the assets are only frozen, not confiscated. In the event that hostilities end without escalating further, all those frozen assets will be returned to their owners.

This article discusses this in more detail, while this article covers a law that Biden recently proposed to Congress which would give him more authority to actually seize them.

I can't speak for other countries, but absent any reason to suspect otherwise, I would assume that the appropriate procedures were followed for all of them. A government that oversteps what it's legally allowed to do is just asking for trouble, either internally from its opposition or from the asset owners' lawsuits after the fact. Note that there doesn't have to be much process that is due - all it takes in the US is Biden declaring an "unusual and extraordinary threat" and then ordering the freezing.

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    Interesting para in that 1st article: "A case currently before the International Court of Justice will decide whether the United States violated this rule when it used funds from frozen Iranian central bank deposits to compensate people who had won a default judgment from Iran for supporting terrorists."
    – Fizz
    May 9 at 18:20
  • Hmm. Curious. If I, as a US Citizen, carry, say $10,000 in a brief case to pay for a used car, and am stopped and the officer discovers the money, it can be confiscated under various state and federal laws (i.e. civil forfeiture laws), yet POTUS can't do the same for Putin and his people?
    – CGCampbell
    May 10 at 12:55
  • @CGCampbell - Great question for Law, I don't have an answer.
    – Bobson
    May 10 at 15:56
  • @CGCampbell The reason they can get away with that is that it's expensive to hire a lawyer. If someone has several million dollars seized, it becomes much more worth it to hire a lawyer. Furthermore, it's harder for the government to claim that ownership of the money is illegitimate if it's in a bank account versus in cash. May 10 at 23:26
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International matters are governed by treaty, not by law. Individual nations may (and usually do) have laws for how they deal with foreign assets internally, but foreign nationals usually need to address such matters through the legal system of the hosting nation — which may not be safe or practical during times of international tension or conflict — and the hosting nation is free to revise or exempt its own laws as it sees fit.

Generally speaking, the stability of cross-national structures and institutions is a matter of national self-interest. States (usually) prefer to maintain a good and honorable reputation with other states, because doing so increases trust and makes trade practices and negotiations on cross-national matters easier and more productive. But a nation that decides to go rogue — forgo its international reputation entirely in the pursuit of some particular objective — cannot rely on the goodwill of other nations, and cannot compel other nations except through the threat or use of military force.

'International law' is a misnomer. There is no authority-driven law on international matters, only rules established by mutual agreement through treaty. And in times of conflict, such rules are as insubstantial as the wind.

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  • But even then: Maybe the US or other countries broke a treaty there (Russia also broke some treaties, so might not be a big issue) or maybe even acted illegally on some of their own laws (which could be changed of course). Morally it might be justified to target close relatives but formally there might be issues.
    – Trilarion
    May 9 at 21:03
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The subjects of such a freeze have various options:

  • Sue in the country which seized their assets. That might be going somewhere, in some cases, but as Bobson pointed out, countries can write their laws to allow their governments to seize assets.
  • Sue in their own country, and ask for damages taken from the country which harmed them. Presumably, they will find a much more friendly court systems. There are precedents for state immunity, but when one government wants to publicly humiliate another, they might let such a lawsuit go ahead.
  • Check if there are international investment agreements which might bring in arbitration clauses, or other financial instruments acting as insurance.

A country which arbitrarily seizes foreign funds will find it hard to attract foreign trade and investment. The West went to great length to make clear that their acts are not arbitrary. It might still influence where autocrats will park their money in the future.

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