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Government accused of having made no effort since start of Ukraine war to apply sanctions

Portuguese State put on the spot by citizens association

Portugal’s Frente Cívica (Civic Front) association has accused the government of having made “no effort” since the start of the war in Ukraine to apply sanctions defined by the European Union, particularly with regard to the assets of Russian oligarchs.

The association – a non-partisan organisation dedicated to the defence of causes in the public interest – published a letter on Tuesday addressed to the Portuguese prime minister, and to the Portuguese president and foreign minister, in which it states that “in the last year and a half, the Portuguese State has made no effort to remove any Russian assets that may be hidden in Portugal“.

Frente Cívica maintains Portugal must “apply sanctions defined by the Council of the European Union”, which “oblige it to identify and freeze the assets of people and entities sanctioned in Portugal” and regrets that the recommendation made by a group of citizens in March 2022 to create a task force to apply the sanctions has not been followed.

The president and vice-president of the association (Paulo de Morais and João Paulo Batalha), who signed the letter sent to prime minister António Costa, consider that the “fact that, to date, assets detected and frozen are apparently only financial, identified by action of the financial system, confirms that no consistent and organised effort has been made to detect assets of Russian individuals and entities in Portugal”.

“This means that the Portuguese State is failing to enforce European Union sanctions and that our country continues to be a potential safe haven for assets of the Russian oligarchy in the EU and the Eurozone.

“A year and a half after the start of the war, this failure is unacceptable,” they continue.

Both men insist on the implementation of the recommendations made by the group last year (asking the prime minister to personally take on the creation of the task force), justifying it with the “urgency, size and across-the-board nature of the tasks necessary for the proper fulfilment of this mission”

The task force would be led by the Attorney General’s Office and would include members of the Asset Recovery Office and the Financial Intelligence Unit of the Judicial Police (the country’s main criminal investigation agency), the Tax and Customs Authority (Autoridade Tributária e Aduaneira), the Bank of Portugal (Banco de Portugal), as well as “other relevant authorities” for the application of sanctions.

Frente Cívica is calling for this task force to be given the “autonomy and means necessary to carry out its mission swiftly and effectively, ascertaining all existing information (financial, tax, police and other) relating to suspected links between assets established in Portugal and the individuals and companies on the sanctions lists, including companies, entities, bank accounts, real estate, investment funds or other financial products (…)”.

The association also calls for regular reports on the activities carried out by the task force to be published and discussed in parliament and for it to be possible to “propose to the government and/ or parliament any changes or improvements to legislation and regulation, procedures or public policies relating to the application of sanctions, the freezing of assets and the recovery of assets”.

As for the association’s claims, Portugal’s ‘attitude’ generally towards enforcing sanctions has always been ambivalent. When European Commission president Ursula Von der Leyen came out and said Ukraine should be rebuilt with the help of confiscated assets of Russian oligarchs, Portugal minister for foreign affairs wasted no time in saying “there is a distinction to be made between freezing and losing those assets to the State, for other purposes (…) the mere fact of being on a sanctions list does not mean that the sanctioned person loses his or her assets”.

Source material: LUSA