Targeting oligarchs: has the Ukraine war had any impact on recovering their assets?

February 15th, 2023

The Financial Transparency Coalition (FTC) and the Independent Commission for the Reform of International Corporate Taxation (ICRICT) held a virtual event on Wednesday, 22 February 2023.

The Financial Transparency Coalition (FTC) and the Independent Commission for the Reform of International Corporate Taxation (ICRICT) organized a high-level interactive virtual event on Wednesday, 22 February 2023 from 14:00 – 15:30 UTC (15:00-17:30 CET),  on whether, one year on from the Russian invasion of Ukraine, there have been any systematic financial reforms and progress to recover hidden assets.

The Ukraine war which broke out on February 24, 2022, was seen as a historic opportunity to push countries to finally target billions of dollars in hidden assets and money held by wealthy individuals in tax havens. This is happening as countries around the world are struggling with cost-of-living crises compounded by high inflation, austerity and a cutback in key social protection measures.

The case of the Russian oligarchs speaks for itself. They hold an estimated $1 trillion in wealth abroad, often concealed in offshore companies whose true ownership is hard to determine, undermining countries’ efforts to target these illicit funds. This prompted the US and EU, together with G7 countries, to launch the Russian Elites, Proxies, and Oligarchs (REPO) task force to implement sanctions against listed Russian and Belarussian oligarchs and their enablers. The EU

The war also opened up the opportunity to shed light on wealth held by all oligarchs, not just Russians, in tax havens. Seen as radical even some months ago, the demand for a Global asset registry, linking all types of assets, companies, and other legal structures not to the legal owner, which is often only a facade, but to the beneficial owner, is now becoming a feasible policy option.

There have been some successes such as the EU freezing €19 billion of Russian oligarchs’ money.  However, things have not moved as fast as hoped.

The total wealth held offshore is estimated to be between $7 trillion to $32 trillion. Those who want their assets to be hidden tend to move faster than policymakers and tax authorities can react. Sanctioned oligarchs have been able to move their money to close allies and family members.

Sanctioned oligarchs have even been able to turn the tide in recent months by successfully challenging measures taken against them, whilst shifting their hidden wealth to places such as Dubai with few controls, fuelling a property boom. Making matters worse, an European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling last November invalidated public access to beneficial ownership registries, making the job of tracking these assets much harder.

Africa has made some progress towards recovering hidden assets. The African Union High-level Panel on Illicit Financial Flows (Mbeki Panel) for example recommended an overhaul of asset recovery legislation. This has been followed up by the African Union’s Common African Position on Asset Recovery (CAPAR) adopted in November 2022 to target hidden assets. But many still feel these efforts are insufficient.

The speakers on the panel addressed these questions:

Has the Ukraine war led to any progress in the fight against kleptocrats and prompted major financial transparency reforms as recommended for example by the Mbeki panel?  Can the US and the EU learn anything from the African experience? Why is it so hard to find the assets of Russian kleptocrats? What can we expect – if anything – in the coming months in the fight against tax abuses and secrecy as countries continue to grapple with the austerity and multiple crisis?


Matti Kohonen, executive director, Financial Transparency Coalition


  • Eva Joly, ICRICT Commissioner and former European Parliament vice-chair of the Commission of Inquiry into Money Laundering, Tax Evasion and Fraud
  • Bolaji Owasanoye, member FACTI Panel and Chairman Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), and anti-corruption agency in Nigeria
  • Attiya Waris, UN Independent Expert on Internal Debt, Other Financial Obligations and Human Rights
  • Gary Kalman, Executive Director, Transparency International US

FORMAT OF THE EVENT: moderated panel followed by Q&A

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