Russian dirty money in London – and “close ties” to the Tory party – will hinder the UK’s pledges to get tough with Moscow if it invades Ukraine, US experts are warning.
Boris Johnson has claimed he is “bringing the West together” to deter Russian aggression, telling Labour to focus on the crisis and not the ‘partygate’ scandal threatening to topple him.
But a report from a think-tank close to Joe Biden’s administration has warned the US will have to take the lead in countering “Russian kleptocrats” – because the UK cannot do so.
“The United Kingdom, in particular, has become a major hub for Russian oligarchs and their wealth, with London gaining the moniker ‘Londongrad’,” it states.
“Uprooting Kremlin-linked oligarchs will be a challenge given the close ties between Russian money and the United Kingdom’s ruling conservative party, the press, and its real estate and financial industry.”
As a result, it will be up to the US to “propose creating the working group in part to prod stronger action from the UK government,” the Centre for American Progress states.
The warning comes as a minister refused to say whether long-promised ‘McMafia’ legislation to target the unexplained wealth of kleptocrats has been dropped.
Lord Agnew, the trade minister who quit over the government’s failure to tackle fraud, said it had been shelved – but the prime minister told MPs he is pressing ahead.
Mr Johnson has put himself at the forefront of pressure to deter an invasion of Ukraine, revealing British troops will be sent to help protect countries in eastern Europe if necessary.
At prime minister’s questions, he accused Keir Starmer of being “in ignorance of the fact that we have a crisis on the borders of Ukraine” – when the Labour leader did not raise it.
“I can tell him what is going on in the cabinet room of this country is that the UK government is bringing the West together so that we have the toughest possible package of sanctions to deter President Putin from what I think would be a reckless and catastrophic invasion.
“That is what this government is doing, we’re getting on with the job and I think he needs to raise his game.”
But his government has failed to implement the vast majority of the recommendations in the 2020 ‘Russia report’, by parliament’s intelligence committee.
Instead, No 10 rejected warnings of dirty Russian money and power infiltrating the “London laundromat” of illicit finance and the House of Lords.
An economic crime bill was promised to overhaul weak oversight of the UK’s business register, Companies House, and bring in a public register of beneficial ownership of property.
The aim would be to reveal the super-rich people behind offshore companies used to hold UK homes and land.
The campaign group Tax Justice UK has attacked the decision to “kick anti-corruption legislation into the long grass yet again”.
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