Illicit finance crackdown only ‘first step in ensuring UK no longer oligarch safe haven’, MPs say

Russia report warned PM to disrupt illicit financial activity two years ago

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Tuesday 15 March 2022 19:42
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Sanctions 'crippling' Russian economy, says minister

Government efforts to crackdown down on illicit finance in the UK are only a “first step” in stopping the country being a safe haven for oligarchs, MPs on the influential intelligence and security committee have stressed.

It comes after the government’s Economic Crime Bill — designed to tackle Russian “dirty money” in Britain — passed all its parliamentary hurdles on Monday evening, paving the way for further sanctions on Putin-linked cronies.

The legislation, which was rushed through the Commons in the wake of the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine, also creates a new register requiring overseas companies to reveal the name of the “beneficial owner” of UK properties.

But two years after the ISC published it’s major ‘Russia’ report — examining how “few questions” were asked as the UK became a “particularly favourable destination” for oligarchs — MPs suggested more action is needed.

The ISC said in its July 2020 report that Russian influence in the UK “is the new normal” and urged Boris Johnson’s government to take measures that “challenge the impunity of Putin-linked elites” integrated in Britain’s social and business scenes.

In a statement published on Tuesday, the committee, which is chaired by the Conservative MP Julian Lewis, reminded the prime minister they had called for his urgent action to “disrupt this illicit financial activity” two years ago.

They said: “As the Intelligence and Security Committee made very clear in its ‘Russia’ report, the UK has been welcoming Russian money for many years with few questions — if any — being asked about the provenance of this considerable wealth.

This map shows the extent of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

“When we sent our report, together with a detailed classified annex, to the prime minister over two years ago, we highlighted then that there was an urgent need to disrupt this illicit financial activity, and questioned the efficacy of the measures which were in place.”

Addressing the passing of the Economic Crime Bill, the MPs on the committee added: “It is hoped that this new legislation is at least the first step toward giving authorities — and in particular the National Crime Agency which leads this effort — the necessary clout and greater powers to ensure the UK is no longer a safe haven for the oligarchy and their enablers”.

Their statement comes after the UK government imposed further sanctions on individuals linked to Vladimir Putin, including Russia’s defence minister, as the Kremlin continues to wage war on Ukraine.

The move brings to more than 1,000 the total number of sanctions imposed since the invasion began on 24 February, with 775 relating to individuals and the remainder to banks, institutions, companies and subsidiaries.

Britain has lagged behind US and EU allies in targeting individual oligarchs for their support of the Russian president, because new legislation brought in as a result of Brexit meant that a watertight legal case needed to be established for each one, raising fears that the process could take months to complete.

But last night’s passage of the Economic Crime Act has accelerated the process, allowing the UK to match sanctions imposed by the EU and US, and then develop detailed cases later.

The Foreign Office said that the new list included “more Russian oligarchs and their family members, Putin’s political allies and propagandists”.

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