Call for Russian asset rediversion to rebuild Ukraine

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An eminent group of former politicians, academics, ambassadors and doctors wants the federal government to redirect $9bn of frozen Russian assets to rebuild Ukraine.

Russian oligarchs’ “dirty money” being held in Australia should also pursued, 26 signatories say in the letter.

Signatories include former Prime Minister John Howard, former Russian ambassador Robert Tyson, former Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne, various academics, a Reverend and former Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

While Australia has no legal mechanism for seizing frozen assets, the signatories say Canada, Belgium and the EU have found artful ways to redirect those frozen assets.

The Australian government is however part of the Russian Elites, Proxies and Oligarchs Taskforce, which is an intelligence sharing network.

The signatories say in the letter, addressed to Treasurer Jim Chalmers, the Russian central bank has about USD$300bn of frozen assets in the West, including about AUD$9bn in Australia.

The Treasurer’s office directed questions to the Foreign Affairs Minister.

The signatories want the Russian assets diverted to rebuilding Ukraine, a confirmation of how much and what type of assets are being held in Australia, and legislative change “to ensure that Russian assets held here can be utilised to support Ukraine”.

“We make this plea because Australia can punch well above its weight at no cost to the Australian taxpayer,” they said in the letter.

“Nine billion dollars … would effectively fund the reconstruction of half of Ukraine’s educational infrastructure.”

A Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesperson said Australia had sanctioned 1200 people and entities in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and cut trade with Russia to “negligible” levels.

“Australia’s goal is to empower Ukraine to end the war on its terms. We will continue to provide targeted assistance to Ukraine to impose costs on Russia,” the spokesperson said.

As of mid-February, Australia had contributed about $960m to Ukraine, mostly to its military.

The full list of signatories are:

– John Howard, former Prime Minister

– Tony Abbott, former Prime Minister

– Marise Payne, former Foreign Affairs Minister

– Barry O’Farrell, former NSW Premier

– Bruce Edwards, former ambassador to Ukraine

– Doug Trappett, former ambassador to Ukraine

– Robert Tyson, former ambassador to Russia

– Mick Ryan, former Australian Army General

– Reverend Bill Crews

– Nick Dyrenfurth, John Curtin Research Centre

– Ed Cavanour, McKell Institute

– Alex Ryvchin, Australian Jewry executive council

– Gerard Dwyer, Australian and international union leader

– Lyall Gorman, Business NSW

– Andrew Mackellar, Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry

– Chris Barter, venture capitalist

– Sergiy Budkin, financier

– Chris Garnaut, private wealth adviser

– Ivan Slavich, bank managing director

– Mark Textor, NGO leader

– Tanya Dus, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital director of psychiatry

– Olga Boichak, Ukraine expert

– Jon Richardson, former diplomat and former researcher in Soviet history and politics

– Michael Lawriwsky, author

– Pete Shmigel, Supporters of Ukraine facilitator

– Kateryna Argyrou, Australian Federation of Ukrainian Organisations