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Oligarchs suspected of corruption face being forced to explain source of their wealth

Security minister says BBC hit McMafia 'very close to the truth' and condemns 'impunity with which some of these people operate and the brutality of it'

Benjamin Kentish
Political Correspondent
Saturday 03 February 2018 11:27 GMT
Ben Wallace said the depiction of organised crime in BBC show McMafia showed 'fact is ahead of fiction'
Ben Wallace said the depiction of organised crime in BBC show McMafia showed 'fact is ahead of fiction' (BBC)

Russian oligarchs suspected of involvement in organised crime will be forced to explain to authorities how they are funding their lavish lifestyle, the Government has said.

Security minister Ben Wallace said new powers set to come into force next week will be used as part of a crackdown on gangsters.

Foreign criminals and corrupt members of the global elite will see the “full force of government” used against them, he said.

In an interview with The Times, Mr Wallace warned those involved in criminal activity: "When we get to you, we will come for you, for your assets and we will make the environment that you live in difficult."

New unexplained wealth orders (UWOs) will be used from next week to seize the UK assets of wealthy people suspected of having profited from the proceeds of crime.

The orders were introduced in the Criminal Finance Act last year but are only now coming into effect. They will force wealthy individuals to explain to UK officials how they acquired assets worth more than £50,000.

Officials estimate that around £90bn of illegal money is laundered through the UK every year.

Mr Wallace said the Government wanted to exploit the success of hit BBC series McMafia to shine a spotlight on the threat posed by international crime networks operating in the UK.

The show, based on a book of the same name by Misha Glenny, depicts how some members of the super-rich use London as a hub for a global web of criminal activity and a life of luxury that comes at the expense of those lower down the ladder.

Mr Wallace said: "McMafia is one of those things where you realise that fact is ahead of fiction.

"It's a really good portrayal of sharp-suited wealthy individuals, but follow the money and it ends up with a young girl getting trafficked for sex.

"Beneath the gloss there is real nastiness. So far it's very close to the truth, the international nature of organised crime and the impunity with which some of these people operate and the brutality of it, is absolutely correct."

The security minister said those likely to be the subject of UWOs include “iconic” individuals with an international reputation.

“Unexplained wealth orders can be used against everyone from a local drug trafficker to an international oligarch or overseas criminal,” he said.

“If they are an MP in a country where they don’t receive a big salary but suddenly they have a nice Knightsbridge townhouse worth millions and they can’t prove how they paid for it, we will seize that asset, we will dispose of it and we will use the proceeds to fund our law enforcement.”

“We are going to go after these iconic individuals, whether they are known about in t in their local community or known about internationally.”

The minister highlighted the Laundromat case, in which 21 ghost companies were used to launder dirty Russian money through banks in the West, as an example of what he said were links between the Russian state and organised crime.

“What we know from the Laundromat exposé is that certainly there have been links to the [Russian] state”, he said. “The government’s view is that we know what they are up to and we are not going to let it happen any more.”

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