A corporate transparency watchdog has questioned why it took Australia three weeks after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to sanction two Russian oligarchs with ties to the Australian resource sector.
The Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility welcomed the decision to sanction Oleg Deripaska and Viktor Vekselberg but called on Origin Energy and Rio Tinto to also take immediate action against both billionaires.
Until Friday, Australia had been conspicuous in not sanctioning either man, despite other Western nations imposing restrictions on them, and Prime Minister Scott Morrison pledging to stay in “lockstep” with allies.
Origin Energy is in a joint venture with Falcon Oil and Gas, which Mr Vekselberg owns a 16 per cent share of through a subsidiary, while Rio Tinto and Russia’s Rusal are in a joint venture over a Queensland aluminium company, according to the ACCR.
Mr Deripaska owned 44 per cent of a company that had a majority stake in Rusal, the centre said.
“Both Origin Energy and Rio Tinto must take every possible step to ensure that neither Deripaska nor Vekselberg financially benefits in any way from the respective joint ventures,” ACCR’s climate and environment direction Dan Gocher said.
“Alumina exports from Queensland to Russia must be stopped immediately, to prevent the possibility of Australian alumina being used in munitions manufacturing.”
Mr Gocher said Rio Tinto should take complete control of the Queensland Alumina venture and Origin Energy should suspend its venture with Falcon Oil and Gas.
“The government must consider imposing sanctions on Rusal, in addition to the Russian financial institutions listed today,” he said.
The two oligarchs were named in a new federal government sanctions instrument on Friday, alongside nine Russian banks and a sovereign wealth fund and the entire Russian finance ministry.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne said Australia had now targeted all Russian government entities responsible for issuing and managing Russia’s sovereign debt.
Sanctions on further banks meant about 80 per cent of all banking assets in Russia have been targeted, she said.
“The Australian government is deeply committed to imposing high costs on Russia,” Senator Payne said.
“This includes by listing individuals of economic and strategic significance to Russia who have supported, and benefited from, the Putin regime.”
Senator Payne also welcomed Australian entities who had moved to cut ties with Moscow.
“We welcome the principled stand taken by Australian companies in announcing moves to cut ties with Russia in protest of Moscow’s illegal, indefensible war against Ukraine,” she said.
“The Australian government reiterates our unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and for the people of Ukraine. We will continue to move with partners on coordinated sanctions, and to constrain funds for President Putin’s unlawful war.”
Australia has also joined a US-led task force targeting Russian elites, proxies and oligarchs.
The task force, which also includes Britain, Japan and European countries, will collect and share information so steps can be taken to freeze and seize assets and launch criminal prosecutions.
Mr Morrison is soon expected to announce Australia will send more aid to Ukraine after flagging a second support package was imminent. He spoke to Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Russia has rejected reports it bombed a theatre in the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol where civilians were sheltering.
Mariupol has suffered the worst humanitarian catastrophe of the war, with hundreds of thousands of civilians trapped in basements with no food, water or power as Russian forces pound it with artillery fire and airstrikes.