Jim Armitage: Britain should not wait for the EU to freeze dubious Ukrainian assets

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The Independent Online

Outlook The Prime Minister has been keen to criticise the European Union for struggling to find a common position on Ukraine. Yet there's one simple and practical step that he could easily take unilaterally. An opt-out that would not cause one of Angela Merkel's characteristic cold, hard stares.

Britain could, and should, stop waiting for the EU to reach common ground on asset freezes of Ukrainian "businessmen" close to the former Yanukovych regime. It should act now, alone, to ice their UK bank accounts and front companies.

As investigations by this newspaper have shown, Companies House has been a regular home for assets from Ukraine of dubious provenance from Mr Yanukovych and his cronies. Austria was another such country. Yet, despite its status as a fellow European Union member, Austria issued freezing orders a week ago, along with Switzerland and Lichtenstein. Switzerland even went so far as to make public the list of names for its banks to act against.

The Foreign Secretary, William Hague, said he hadn't received a list of people that the new administration in Kiev wanted investigated until Monday. Now, he says, he has the list. Yet still no asset freeze. Instead, as he told the House of Commons, he is dispatching a team of Brits out there to seek further advice on how we can help. Nothing wrong with that, but why not put a freeze on the assets now as an interim measure? Dirty money has a nasty habit of flying quicker than the investigators chasing it. We should act now against the funds of the Yanukovych regime before it disappears to Panama and Belize, unless it's already gone.