European countries, including the Czech Republic, are introducing economic sanctions against Russia in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Experts say this is a good opportunity to address the limitation of Russian influence in the Czech Republic. In addition to taking immediate steps, such as freezing the assets of Russian oligarchs, they believe that existing systemic instruments, such as the anti-money laundering law, should be used more consistently and improved, and new instruments, in particular the Magnitsky Act, should be introduced.
According to Datlab Institute, a member organization of the Reconstruction of the State, there are 20,712 entities in the Czech Republic with a high risk of being linked to Russia or Belarus, and approximately 81 Czech companies have some connection to an entity on the sanctions lists (EU, USA). According to experts, it is necessary to compile a complete list of companies linked to Russian influence and to map movable and immovable assets that should be subject to sanctions. The Financial Analytical Office and intelligence services should play a key role in this process, but it is also an opportunity for investigative journalists and wider civil society.
“One of the main sanctioning instruments that the Czech Republic should apply against persons or institutions associated with Russian aggression in Ukraine is the freezing of their assets. This means making assets and proceeds thereof inaccessible to sanctioned entities for the duration of the international sanctions as such or against the person in question.”
lawyer and lobbyist
However, freezing assets alone does not guarantee that sanctioned persons will not be able to apply for public money. It is therefore necessary to take legislative steps to cut them off from the flow of public funds, in particular public tenders, investment incentives, subsidies or tax breaks.
Systemic strengthening of the Czech Republic’s resilience to the influence of non-democratic regimes
Following the action steps leading to the swift imposition of sanctions, we need to strengthen the tools we already have to map influence, as well as introduce some new ones. In the first case, the law on the registration of beneficial owners and the law on money laundering. “Both laws give us quite strong tools to control financial influence in the Czech Republic. The problem is that they are not used enough. Banks or real estate agents, for example, can demand consistent proof of the origin of the money that a person brings in cash in a briefcase, but they often don’t. We believe that in the context of Russian aggression, they will be more active in doing so,” says Lukáš Kraus, head of the analytical team at Reconstruction of the State.
Experts recommend implementing these long-term measures:
1. The adoption of the so-called Magnitsky Act, which would introduce a sanction mechanism on persons who commit fundamental human rights violations or money laundering with foreign policy implications in favour of dictatorial regimes.
2. Passage of the Foreign Beneficial Owners of Real Property Registration Act, which would require foreign entities to report who the “beneficial owner” is, i.e. the person who ultimately owns or controls the property.
3. Consistent amendment of the Beneficial Owners Registration Act and further strengthening of the quality of the data in the registry so that it can be relied upon – the requirements to document the ownership structures of companies need to be strengthened.
4. Cutting off companies from tax havens from public money. The richest one percent of Russians own assets worth almost half of all Russian household wealth, with most of these assets managed through offshore firms.
5. Effective use and adequate strengthening of the existing inadequate state capacity to combat money laundering.
6. Introduce rules for transparent lobbying to prevent unwanted interference by persons associated with non-democratic regimes.
The European Values Center for Security Policy is a co-author of this series of recommendations.