EU Countries Finalise Their Position on Law That Aligns Penalties for Violations against Russia

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On June 9, the Council of the European Union reached a common approach for an EU law that introduces criminal offences and penalties for the violation of EU sanctions. According to the Council’s press release, this directive will be an important tool to ensure that violating sanctions does not pay off. “Sanctions are one crucial tool in the EU support of Ukraine and its fight against the Russian illegal aggression. This new law will make it easier to investigate, prosecute and punish the breaking of sanction measures throughout the EU,” explained Gunnar Strömmer, the Minister for Justice of Sweden, which currently presides over the EU Council. The draft law defines the conduct member states will need to criminalise. Actions which member states will label as criminal offences include: helping persons subject to Union restrictive measures to bypass an EU travel ban, trading sanctioned goods and running transactions with states or entities which are hit by EU restrictive measures. The Council of the European Union also wants member states to ensure that violating EU sanctions is punishable by effective, proportionate and dissuasive criminal penalties. The draft directive foresees penalties to vary depending on the offence. The directive project stipulates that the punishments will vary depending on the offence committed. EU member states will also need to update their national laws so that aggravating circumstances are taken into account when determining the penalty. An aggravating circumstance for instance would be that the offence is committed in the framework of a criminal organisation or by a public official. Member states need to take measures to freeze and confiscate the proceeds from violating sanctions. Moreover, EU countries will furthermore be required to guarantee cooperation and coordination between its various law enforcement and judicial authorities. Cooperation on criminal investigations into sanction violation will also happen at European level – between member states, the Commission and EU agencies such as Europol or the European Public Prosecutor’s Office. The enforcement of EU sanctions is a member state responsibility. But the types and levels of penalties in member states can vary because – so far – national systems that deal with the violation of EU sanctions differ significantly. Currently, member states are not required to criminalise violations and may thus apply administrative sanctions instead, and maximum criminal penalties range from 2 to 12 years of imprisonment. In order to limit sanctions circumvention and tighten their enforcement, the Commission proposed on 5 December 2022 the present draft directive on the definition of criminal offences and penalties for the violation of Union restrictive measures. The general approach agreed on today is the basis for negotiations with the European Parliament to reach a common position on the draft law.