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UKRAINE

France freezes €850 million of Russian assets

France has seized around €850 million of Russian oligarchs' assets on its soil, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said on Sunday. 

France freezes €850 million of Russian assets
French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire speaks during a press conference to present an economic and social resilience plan, in Paris, on March 16, 2022. (Photo by Thomas SAMSON / AFP)

“We have immobilised … 150 million euros in individual’s accounts, credit lines in France and in French establishments,” Le Maire told French television as Paris hits Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine. 

Furthermore, “we have immobilised 539 million euros in real estate on French territory, corresponding to some 390 properties or apartments and we have sequestered two yachts (with a value of) 150 million euros,” said Le Maire. 

“In total that is (almost) 850 millions euros in assets belonging to Russian oligarchs which have been immobilised on French soil,” he added.  The French crackdown means the owners are unable to, sell on or monetise their assets. 

Notwithstanding, “they are not seized in the sense that the state becomes the owner and could then sell them on.

For there to be seizure there has to be a penal offence”, Le Maire stipulated. 

“The sanctions are hitting Russia, the state, Vladimir Putin hard,” Le Maire went on. 

Since Russian began its war in Ukraine on February 24 Western states have responded with a wide-ranging package of stiff financial sanctions. 

On Friday, Russia’s central bank said the extent of the sanctions would make macro economic forecasting “extremely difficult”. 

Four days after the invasion began Moscow hiked its main interest rate from 9.5 to 20 percent and the response to the conflict has largely cut Russia’s financial sector off from the global economy. 

SEE ALSO: Côte d’Azur mansions, jets, yachts: What is France likely to seize from Russian oligarchs?

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CRIME

French ex-minister convicted in fake jobs scam

A French court on Thursday found former justice minister Michel Mercier guilty of embezzlement in a fake jobs scheme he ran for the benefit of family members.

French ex-minister convicted in fake jobs scam

Mercier, 75, who served under former president Nicolas Sarkozy between 2010 and 2012, claimed tens of thousands of euros for his wife and daughter for parliamentary jobs  they never carried out.

The court handed him a suspended prison sentence of three years.

Mercier gave “personal gain precedence over the public good”, the court said in its verdict, calling Mercier’s actions “serious”.

As senator, Mercier claimed 50,000 euros ($54,000 at today’s rate) in salary for his wife Joelle between 2005 and 2009, and  €37,000 for his daughter Delphine between 2012 and 2014.

During that time, Delphine Mercier was living in London and did not set foot in the French Senate, but her father claimed she was acting as his “cultural advisor”.

Neither Mercier nor his daughter were able to provide any proof of actual work done.

Joelle Mercier, meanwhile, claimed during the trial that she had served as her husband’s representative at village fairs and funerals.

She was found guilty of conspiracy to embezzle public funds and of receiving stolen money and sentenced to a suspended prison term of 18 months and a €40,000 fine.

The court handed the daughter a 12-month suspended sentence and a fine of €10,000.

Prosecutors had asked for the ex-minister to serve one year behind bars, accusing him of “creating smoke screens” in his defence and seeking to mislead the court.

Mercier had based part of his defence on his rural roots, pitting his “common sense” against the “Parisians” of the national financial crimes unit PNF.

Several French politicians have been convicted for similar offences committed before France in 2017 banned National Assembly deputies and senators from employing family members.

The move came in reaction to a public outcry over a high-profile case involving former right-wing prime minister Francois Fillon, who was found guilty of providing a fake parliamentary assistant job to his wife that saw her paid hundreds of thousands of euros in public funds.

The “Penelopegate” scandal, revealed in a media report while he was the front-runner in the 2017 presidential race, torpedoed  his political career and cleared a path for then-relatively unknown Emmanuel Macron.

Last year, a court trimmed Fillon’s sentence to four years in prison with three suspended — down from five years with three suspended when he was first found guilty in 2020.

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