U.S. and allies launch joint task force to tackle Russian oligarchs

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States and its allies on Wednesday launched a multilateral task force to tackle Russian oligarchs, increasing cooperation on freezing assets as the West steps up pressure on Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine.

Representatives from Australia, Canada, the European Commission, Germany, Italy, France, Japan and the UK met virtually with U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Attorney General Merrick Garland, the U.S. Treasury Department said in a statement.

The countries agreed to collect and share information on Russian oligarchs with the goal of actions including sanctions, freezing and seizing assets and prosecution.

The United States provided a list of 50 individuals who are priorities to the United States, the Treasury said. It publicly released 28 of the names, which include Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

"We will continue to work together to take all appropriate actions against those whose criminal acts enable the Russian government to continue its unjust war against Ukraine," Garland said in the statement.

The United States and its allies have imposed several rounds of sanctions, including targeting oligarchs and officials, since Russian forces invaded Ukraine nearly three weeks ago in the biggest assault on a European state since World War Two. Moscow calls the assault a "special operation" to disarm and "denazify" its neighbor.

The United States and allies last month announced they would launch a task force to identify and freeze the assets of sanctioned Russian companies and oligarchs.

The U.S. Justice Department this month launched an interagency law enforcement task force known as "KleptoCapture" aimed at straining the finances of Russia's oligarchs.

The Treasury in Wednesday's statement said cooperation between the United States and foreign partners had already been successful in past weeks, with information provided by U.S. law enforcement to partners contributing to the restraint of multiple vessels controlled by sanctioned people and entities.

The vessels are collectively estimated to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars, the Treasury said.

A rewards program offering payments leading to the seizure or forfeiture of assets linked to foreign government corruption, including the Russian government, will also be launched on Wednesday, the statement said.

(Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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