No, Biden can’t just sell off seized Russian yachts and central bank assets to help aid Ukraine – international law and the US Constitution forbid it
UVA Law Faculty Affiliations
The Biden administration wants to sell off the yachts, homes and other luxury assets it has seized from Russian oligarchs and use those proceeds to support reparations for Ukraine.
As part of his proposal for the latest aid package to Ukraine, President Joe Biden is asking lawmakers for the authority to formally confiscate the assets of sanctioned oligarchs to pay to “remedy the harm Russia caused … and help build Ukraine.” The House has already passed a bill urging Biden to sell the assets, but it didn’t specifically give him the authority to do so.
Others have encouraged the administration to sell off the tens of billions of dollars in Russian central bank assets it has frozen. It’s not clear from the White House statement whether Biden plans to go after state-owned assets too.
That he has gone to Congress to get permission indicates that his lawyers believe, as do I, that current law permits only freezing, and not selling, foreign property in the course of an international crisis.
I’ve studied and practiced international law for several decades and advised the departments of State and Defense on issues like this one. The idea of forcing Russia to pay reparations for the harm to Ukraine has obvious appeal. But the U.S. needs to comply with constitutional and international law when it does so.