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The Netherlands too slow in imposing sanctions

After a wave of criticism for slow implementation of sanctions against Russia, the Dutch Prime Minister appointed a coordinator who would help organise the process more effectively. According to legal experts, however, Russian oligarchs had already removed most of their assets from the Netherlands.

The Dutch Minister of Finance Sigrid Kaag informed last week that the Netherlands has frozen over EUR 516 million of Russian assets. Meanwhile, the other Benelux countries have blocked much more: Belgium – nearly EUR 200 billion, Luxembourg – EUR 2.5 billion.

The Dutch government has received a lot of criticism from the opposition and the media for implementing the sanctions at such a slow pace. Initially, Prime Minister Mark Rutte defended the actions of the Dutch government by saying that France had frozen much more Russian assets only because that’s where billions of euros from Russia’s central bank were being held. He then decided to appoint a coordinator who would speed up the process of executing sanctions. The task has been assigned to the former Foreign Minister Stef Blok, who is to improve the cooperation between ministries and supervise active surveillance of 200 most important Russian entities from the sanction list.

Experts interviewed by Financeele Dagblad, a Dutch daily newspaper, said that the decision was made much too late, as the great majority of the Russian assets had already been taken out or sold.

“On top of that, the Russians are protected by regulations concerning privacy and by classified decisions of tax authorities,” sanctions lawyer Heleen over de Linden told the newspaper. Another sanctions lawyer, Yvo Amar, pointed out that assets must be frozen immediately for sanctions to work, and that had not happened.

According to the De Nederlandsche Bank (DNB), Russian-owned businesses hold about EUR 20 billion in the Netherlands. “They are taking advantage of our favourable business climate but make a very limited input to the Dutch economy,” a representative of DNB told the newspaper. The Belgian daily De Standaard estimates that the Russians who have been subjected to sanctions have EUR 45 billion worth of assets in the Netherlands.

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