7 Mar 2022

PM Jacinda Ardern speaks after Cabinet meeting, confirms new Russia Sanctions Bill

5:51 pm on 7 March 2022

A law enabling New Zealand to freeze the assets of those associated with Russia, in response to its invasion of Ukraine, will pass under urgency this week, the prime minister says.

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Speaking after a Cabinet meeting this afternoon, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern confirmed the new Russia Sanctions Bill would be able to target those associated with the invasion, including people, services, companies and assets.

It would prevent people and companies moving their money and assets - including superyachts, ships and aircraft - into New Zealand, and would extend to Russian oligarchs and other countries which support Russia, like Belarus.

Sanctions could apply to trade, financial institutions and territory, and while it would be specific to the Russian invasion it would also allow sanctions to be imposed against states considered complicit in Russia's acts, Ardern said.

This would be done via a public sanctions register, listing every individual, entity, asset or service being sanctioned.

The bill gives seven ministers power to act - the prime minister, the deputy prime minister, the minister of foreign affairs, the minister for trade and export growth, the attorney-general, the minister responsible for the GCSB and NZSIS, and the minister for justice and immigration.

Ardern said they would convene as soon as possible to sign off the first tranche of sanctions as soon as the bill was passed.

It would focus on expanding travel bans, immediate asset freezes and sanctions on Russian banks. Ardern said the government wanted to impact on those who were decision-makers.

A second tranche would be focused on a more forensic analysis of Russian investment in New Zealand, with ties to the invasion.

The second tranche would be done after a process through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which will include identifying whether anyone else should be added to the list, Ardern said.

The second tranche would likely come "another few weeks" after the first tranche.

Ardern said it was the first time a bill of this nature had been before the New Zealand Parliament.

"But with Russia vetoing UN sanctions we must act ourselves to support Ukraine and our partners in opposition to this invasion," she said.

"This bill will be specific and targeted to those funding and supporting war. It will not be blanket sanctions on any Russian person or Russian operation in New Zealand.

"We would had hoped not to have to take this step, we would have hoped to be able to use the might of our multilateral organisations, but the unprecedented actions of Russia and the limitations of the multilateral system have forced us to act in this way."

Ardern said the amount of Russian investment in New Zealand currently was limited, up to $40 million with no pending overseas investment applications.

Autonomous sanctions was not something that was "pushed to the side" by the government, which first looked at the fastest levers available.

"In the end it was determined that we would progress with the bill that you see before you today."

She said the bill that had been sitting in Parliament since 2017 would not allow targeting of Russian oligarchs or extend to airspace or maritime areas, and did not allow more extensive things designed specifically for this invasion.

Asked whether the government could have simply amended the bill that had already been before Parliament, Ardern said that bill was not fit for purpose. The change to autonomous sanctions is a big change, she said.

"So we've created our own bespoke response, and now we'll continue the wider autonomous sanctions work."

Ardern said the bill would be introduced on Wednesday, with hopes of passing through all stages by the end of the day.

The effects were expected to begin within a week, she said.

- POOL - Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern during the post-Cabinet press conference with Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta, Parliament, Wellington. 07 March, 2022.  NZ Herald photograph by Mark Mitchell

Photo: Pool / NZME

Minister of Foreign Affairs Nanaia Mahuta said New Zealand had decided autonomous sanctions were required to show the strength of New Zealand's condemnation of Russia.

Mahuta said sanctions would be in line with international law, and the register of sanctioned individuals, organisations and assets would ensure transparency.

"While the legislation is broad it doesn't mean that someone who is Russian and wealthy will automatically be a target. We are not looking to target every individual or company simply for being Russian. We are looking to target people, services and entities responsible for or associated with Russia's aggression. We want to target those who are economically or strategically important to Russia, and we want to respond to those states or individuals who might help Russia in their aggression against Ukraine like Belarus."

The creation of the bill would send a clear signal that New Zealand would not be a safe haven, she said.

The government welcomed the feedback of all the parties in Parliament in developing the legislation, and cross-party support would allow it to pass under urgency, Mahuta said.

The government would continue seeking advice on a more general autonomous sanctions regime, she said.

Mahuta expected over time the international community would be well served by the transparency offered by having a public register of sanctions.

There would be thresholds within the bill to limit how far sanctions could apply, Mahuta said.

Mahuta said she had called the Russian ambassador in to express concern, and at this stage there were international obligations and conventions that must be considered before the ambassador could be expelled.

"We also have people still in Russia who require our support or consular support, so we have to weigh things up as we take next steps".

Russian aggression would require "strategic endurance" and the bill will allow either a ramping up or a winding back of sanctions should that aggression lessen, she said.

The government's media release also included a list of more than 100 individuals who would be affected by the government's travel bans.

Ardern said Russia's invasion of Ukraine 11 days ago was an unjustified and flagrant breach of international law, condemned by New Zealand along with other countries around the world.

Despite international condemnation, Russia's assault continued "and so must our pressure".