Foreign secretary Liz Truss has told MPs that British government moves to sanction Russian oligarchs are being “held up” by law firms based on London, according to a senior backbencher.
Labour MP Ben Bradshaw revealed details from a briefing given to parliamentarians on Friday, as the government comes under growing pressure to hit more kleptocrats with links to Vladimir Putin’s regime.
Mr Bradshaw told The Independent: “She was talking about why we weren’t going faster on sanctioning some of these people.”
He added: “She explained that they had to make certain their actions were legally watertight, because of the litigiousness of the London law firms representing these men.”
The former Labour minister said it was time for the government to “name and shame” British law firms acting on behalf of oligarchs being targeted for sanctions.
“It’s absolutely outrageous – the British public have a right to know which legal firms based here in London are trying to prevent the sanctioning of Putin’s cronies,” said Mr Bradshaw.
The Labour MP – who tweeted earlier on Friday about Ms Truss telling MPs sanctions had been “held up” – said any British law firms representing sanctioned Russians “should cut ties with them at once” or face penalties themselves.
The government insists that the sanctions legislation already in place will allow them to hit individuals close to Mr Putin – including members of the Russian parliament.
Officials have to draw up detailed cases for action against each individual and business, with the aim of making the justification watertight in the case of a court challenge by the notoriously litigious oligarchs.
However, top legal commentator David Allen Green said the claim that London lawyers were slowing down government action was “twaddle” and “a silly contention”.
The expert tweeted: “If government gets its act together, there is *nothing* City law firms can do for their oligarch clients.”
He added: “The only way City law firms could frustrate a determined legal move by UK government, is if government has gone about this in a half-cocked clumsy way. And that would be the fault of the government, and not of the law firms.”
Five super-wealthy individuals with close links to the Kremlin will face asset freezes and blocks on transactions, as well as a ban on travel to the UK, under expanded sanctions announced by Boris Johnson on Thursday.
The targeted oligarchs are Russia’s youngest billionaire Kirill Shamalov, PS Bank chief Petr Fradkov, VTB Bank deputy president Denis Bortnikov, defence company director Yuri Slyusar and Novicom Bank chair Elena Georgieva.
Downing Street and the Foreign Office have vowed to go further. No 10 said on Friday that the prime minister was considering sanctioning Putin’s “inner circle” after Ukraine demanded tougher measures.
Ms Truss has said the government would look to bring in additional legislation to limit Russian sovereign debt sales in the UK – but suggested that the existing UK sanctions legislation should be enough to impose penalties on individuals.
Earlier this week Ms Truss told the BBC: “We need to make sure that any specific sanctions of individuals are watertight so they can’t be legally challenged ... we will work to do that over the coming weeks. But we do have the legislation in place.”
Ms Truss said the UK has a “long list” of people complicit in the actions of the Russian leadership, who the government is willing to “turn up the heat” on unless Moscow pulls back its forces.
Asked the government was willing to impose sanctions on Tory donors, she said: “In terms of who we’re targeting … I don’t rule out anything.”
Sir Keir Starmer said on Friday that sanctions imposed on Russia need to be “tougher still”, saying Putin’s regime had to be “isolated and crippled”.
The Labour leader added: “We must ensure the UK no longer rolls out the red carpet for Putin’s robber barons who come to socialise, hob-knob with high society and send their children to private schools.”
Leading sanctions expert Bill Browder told The Independent the sanctions imposed on five individuals did not go far enough. “I would argue the best target is to go after the 50 or so oligarchs who look after Putin’s money in the UK,” he said.
Mr Browder added: “The list I saw only included a few oligarchs. From my perspective, that misses the target completely – that’s what Putin cares about most.”
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