Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
Good afternoon, everyone. My name is Nicole Argentieri.
I am the Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General of the United States Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Criminal Division, and it is my distinct pleasure to formally welcome all of you to the Camden Asset Recovery Inter-agency Network’s 2023 Annual General Meeting (AGM).
While we were disappointed that we could not host the AGM in the United States for logistical reasons, I wanted to express my thanks to our Belgian hosts for providing such a wonderful location to gather and collaborate over the next three days.
We truly could not have done it without your assistance and support.
As you all know, asset forfeiture and asset recovery are integral parts of the global fight against crime.
We all know that criminals are motivated by profit. Asset forfeiture or confiscation is a critical tool we use to deprive criminals of their ill-gotten gains. In fact, DOJ has a long-standing policy of requiring prosecutors “to use asset forfeiture to the fullest extent possible to investigate, identify, seize, and forfeit the assets of criminals and their organizations while ensuring that due process rights of all property owners are protected.”
Asset recovery is also one essential way that we provide compensation to victims of crime.
These dual goals are apparent in some of the U.S. Department of Justice’s recent actions.
For example, just last month, prosecutors from Arizona, California, and Idaho, along with the Criminal Division’s National Cryptocurrency Enforcement Team (NCET), seized over $100 million in cryptocurrency. These funds were the proceeds of various cryptocurrency confidence schemes that lured in victims with the promise of guaranteed investment returns.
In these schemes, once the victims sent their money to the fraudsters, the investments were instead diverted to cryptocurrency wallets the criminals and their co-conspirators controlled.
Because many of the victims in these cases reached out soon after the fraud occurred, financial investigators and law enforcements agents were able to follow the money and seize these funds so we can seek to return them to victims.
The U.S. Department of Justice also uses its asset forfeiture tools in the fight against global aggression.
In March of 2022 – just days after Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine – the department launched Task Force KleptoCapture (TFKC) to further leverage our tools and authorities to combat efforts to evade or undermine U.S. sanctions related to the invasion.
TFKC coordinates attorneys, agents, analysts, and other professionals from across the department who are experts in sanctions and export control enforcement, anticorruption, asset forfeiture, anti-money laundering, national security issues, and foreign evidence collection.
One primary goal of TFKC is to seize the assets of individuals and entities who violate sanctions related to Russia’s invasion. TFKC has already taken several actions to freeze and seize the assets of sanctioned Russian oligarchs and indict individuals for violations of U.S. sanctions and alleged evasions of export controls.
For instance, in May 2022, the department announced that law enforcement in Fiji executed a seizure warrant freezing the Motor Yacht Amadea, a 348-luxury vessel owned by sanctioned Russian oligarch Suleiman Kerimov, pursuant to a U.S. mutual legal assistance request. Our prosecutors, including those from the Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section, secured a seizure warrant in the United States, which found the yacht was subject to forfeiture based on probable cause of violations of U.S. law, including the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), money laundering and conspiracy.
As another example, in September 2022, the department announced the unsealing of an indictment alleging sanctions evasion and other charges against oligarch Oleg Deripaska, who was sanctioned in April 2018 in response to the Russian government’s engagement in worldwide malign activity and its annexation of Crimea, Ukraine. The indictment also provides notice of the United States’ intention to forfeit from Deripaska the proceeds of his offense, including three luxury properties in the United States and the proceeds from the sale of a music studio in California.
And just last month, two metals traders were arrested in Orlando, Florida, and charged with engaging in sanctions evasions and money laundering related to transactions with companies affiliated with Sergey Kurchenko, who was sanctioned by the United States in 2018 and the EU in 2022 for acting on behalf of and providing material support to separatist groups operating in Eastern Ukraine.
Similar efforts to enhance law enforcement’s ability to confiscate criminals’ illicit profits are also underway throughout the European Union and around the world.
It is my understanding that the EU has also proposed significant revisions to its asset recovery and confiscation regime, which will assist prosecutors and investigators in identifying, freezing, and confiscating proceeds of crime.
The current asset recovery regime in Europe is governed by a directive known as 2014/42/EU. Adopted in 2014, this directive is a harmonization instrument covering both freezing and confiscation of instrumentalities and proceeds of crime.
There are still obstacles on the path to recovering criminal assets, as shown by the European Commission’s June 2020 evaluation of the 2014 directive on freezing and confiscation of instrumentalities and proceeds of crime and the 2007 Council decision on Asset Recovery Offices (AROs).
We were pleased that in May 2022, the European Commission adopted this proposal to amend the 2014 directive with a view to strengthening the EU’s asset recovery and confiscation rules and reinforcing the powers of AROs. The committee’s draft report was issued on Feb. 14, 2023.
Among other things, these revisions would clarify that asset tracing and identification are necessary components of a broad range of criminal investigations and that the exchange of information between investigative offices – both upon request and spontaneously – would greatly enhance the impact of asset recovery on crime prevention and victim compensation.
While these legislative efforts will make a huge difference in the fight to deter criminal activity through the forfeiture or confiscation of illicit proceeds, we also rely on the relationships built by groups like CARIN to bolster our efforts in this field.
This year’s working groups, which focus on best practices in asset recovery matters; identifying, seizing, and disposing of cryptocurrency; the disposition of assets post-conviction; and victim compensation, are designed to allow all of us to learn from each other’s successes and failures, and to foster relationships that will hopefully amplify our future efforts.
Thank you for all your work supporting the global effort to recover the proceeds of crime, and I look forward to hearing about your future successes.