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Ukraine requests information on Bank of Russia’s Belgian accounts in criminal case against its head Elvira Nabiullina

The Prosecutor General's Office of Ukraine has sent a request to the Belgian Justice Ministry asking for assistance in its criminal case against Elvira Nabiullina, the head of the Bank of Russia. As The Insider learned from a source familiar with the investigation, the Ukrainian side is seeking information about Belgian bank accounts that are suspected to hold Bank of Russia assets worth an estimated €190 billion. Kyiv advocates for this frozen Russian money to be put to use in order to finance Ukraine’s ongoing military defense and eventual reconstruction.

Belgium was also sent a copy of a ruling issued in April by Kyiv’s Shevchenkivsky District Court pertaining to the case against Nabiullina, who has been charged under Part 3 Article 110 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine with “encroachment on the territorial integrity and inviolability of Ukraine, resulting in loss of life or other serious consequences.” The court granted the motion of the lead investigator of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), providing the investigation with permission to access “objects and documents with the possibility of obtaining copies of them” from the Brussels-based financial company Euroclear SA/NV. The SBU is seeking the account numbers used by the Central Bank of the Russian Federation for the safekeeping of securities, along with records of the execution of purchase and sale transactions and information on the balances on these accounts. The Insider has been granted access to the ruling in question.

The investigation believes that the information about these accounts may contain evidence of the Central Bank head's involvement in the crime she has been charged with. While some of the requested information is subject to bank secrecy, the Ukrainian court ruling emphasizes that the Bank of Russia provides “direct financial support” to the Russian armed forces in waging war against Ukraine.

A member of the expert group of the Ukrainian investigation told The Insider anonymously that the Ukrainian authorities are trying to overhaul the approach to the confiscation of Russian state assets by demonstrating that these assets serve as a tool of warfare in the Kremlin’s ongoing invasion.

“All arguments against the confiscation of frozen Russian assets boil down to the fact that this money is ordinary property, so the decision to confiscate it, which the G7 leaders are mulling over, allegedly violates the principles of property inviolability, and is therefore political and contains unacceptably high risks.
In reality, this approach, which is also actively promoted by Russian representatives, is untenable, since in this particular case, we are not dealing with an ordinary material asset but with something that is essentially and legally a tool for committing the crime of aggression, a financial instrument sustaining the operation of the war machine. Consequently, the confiscation decision should not be viewed as an ‘extraordinary trespass on property’ but as a lawful and just punishment for the crimes committed, especially considering the World Bank estimated the damage caused to Ukraine as a result of Russian aggression as of the end of 2023 to be €499 billion, which is 2.5 times the amount frozen in Euroclear accounts.
Nevertheless, whatever legal instrument of asset confiscation is implemented, opponents of this measure fear that Russia may start confiscating the assets of Western investors on its territory — as if it weren't already happening. The longer Western politicians delay solutions that will help stop the aggressor once and for all, the greater the price the global community will eventually have to pay.”

Economist Ruben Enikolopov told The Insider that bank secrecy can be waived only in exceptional cases. He expects that the issue of Ukrainian access to the Bank of Russia’s Belgian accounts will be resolved — albeit not in Belgium, but at the level of the European Union.

“I think the main objective pursued by Ukraine in seeking information about the Bank of Russia's overseas accounts is to understand the total volume of Russia’s assets, where they are invested, how profitable they are — and to ensure, for instance, that the profits from these assets are used for helping Ukraine. Ideally, all these assets should be seized and transferred to Kyiv. The volume of these assets is not exactly public knowledge. Everyone theorizes about transferring them [to Ukraine], but no one knows how much we are talking about — only roughly.
Frankly speaking, the prospects of this lawsuit seem doubtful because of bank secrecy, which can only be waived in exceptional cases, by court decision based on strong legal arguments. As far as I know, even European governments cannot access this information, so it's even less likely that the banks would provide it to the Ukrainian side.
It will not be up to Belgium to resolve this issue on its own. I am sure the decision will be made at the level of all-European diplomacy. Formally, the Belgian government and courts will have a say because Euroclear is Belgium-based, but I am sure that a political decision of this scale will be handled at the EU level.”

Whatever decision is ultimately made, the issue is unlikely to be resolved quickly. The SBU accused the head of the Bank of Russia as early as January 2023, but Nabiullina, along with other figures of interest like Promsvyazbank chairperson Petr Fradkov, will remain outside the reach of international law so long as the regime of Vladimir Putin continues to protect them inside Russia. In the meantime, the evidence against them is only likely to grow.

“In the course of investigative and operational measures, the Security Service of Ukraine collected evidence of participation of the head of the Central Bank of Russia Elvira Nabiullina in the financing of military groups of the aggressor country. It was she who organized the introduction of the so-called ‘ruble zone’ in the temporarily occupied areas of southern and eastern Ukraine,” the SBU stated.

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