Russia’s richest have unleashed a swarm of lobbyists, consultants, and lawyers upon Washington, D.C., in recent months to help avert a looming threat to the estimated $1 trillion pile of riches they’ve stashed away outside Russia.
The cause for the open checkbooks? A list of names. Or more accurately, a document with a cinematic nickname: “The Kremlin Report.”
The Treasury Department on Jan. 29 is set to publish a detailed report on the staggering wealth and business interests of Russian oligarchs and their family members, thanks to a once little-noticed provision tucked inside sanctions legislation that Congress forced U.S. President Donald Trump to sign with a veto-proof majority back in August.
“I’d refer to it as a name-and-shame list,” said Erich Ferrari, head of a Washington law firm specializing in sanctions.
But being “shamed” by the U.S. Treasury Department could have real-life consequences for some of the world’s richest people, according to current and former U.S. government officials, analysts, and lawyers who spoke to VICE News.
And Russia’s billionaire set is staging a collective freak-out.
“The degree of Russian alarm is striking,” said Ambassador Daniel Fried, the State Department’s coordinator for sanctions policy from 2013 until last February.
The report won’t automatically trigger explicit penalties, but those who find their name in its pages have reason to fear they will become instantly radioactive in the elite upper reaches of Western financial institutions, effectively putting a big crimp in their extravagant lifestyles and limiting their ability to exploit their own astronomical wealth, experts said.
The stigma may be just the start of it. Being named by the report could indeed set the stage for further action, including real-life sanctions later on, U.S. Senator Ben Cardin, Democrat from Maryland and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told VICE News.
“We are trying to deal first with transparency,” Cardin said. “Will there be consequences down the road as far as sanctions? That requires a different set of calculations. But certainly, transparency can lead to other actions.”
“I’ve never seen such a tool before”
Yet no one knows what the immediate impact of simply being named in the report will really be — because, apparently, the U.S. has never actually done anything quite like this, experts said.
“It’s an odd thing to be naming names, without any impact, as a legal matter,” said Adam Smith, former senior adviser to the director of the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control and now a partner at the law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. “I’ve never seen such a tool before.”