Britain promises to target assets of ‘Putin’s oligarchs’

Britain promises to target assets of 'Putin's oligarchs'

President Joe Biden and other Western leaders have repeatedly warned that if Vladimir Putin orders an invasion of Ukraine they will impose quick and punitive economic sanctions against Moscow. British ministers announced on Sunday they are planning new legislation to ease sanctions on “Putin’s oligarchs” and Russian officials holding investments and assets in Britain.

According to Transparency International, an anti-corruption lobbying and research organization in Berlin, Russians have invested an estimated $2 billion in the London property market alone.

And the House of Commons’ own research library noted in a report last year: “For some time the UK has been accused of being a hotbed of dirty money – London’s major property market in particular.”

The British move is in response to frustration in Washington, where officials have complained that Boris Johnson’s government has not done enough to prevent London from being used as a destination, and that the Russian mega-rich’s profits have been a shambles. There is also a way station. ,

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Britain’s problem

Last week, analysis by the Center for American Progress, an influential Democratic-aligned think tank, outlined the challenges the White House will face if it cuts economic sanctions. It suggested that “the economic domain would be the primary theater for US-Russia confrontation,” but noted “expectations of achieving economic costs should be kept under control.”

The think tank called Britain a problem. “The United Kingdom, in particular, has become a major center for Russian oligarchs and their wealth, with London gaining the moniker ‘Londongrad’,” said report author Max Bergmann. “Uprooting the 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,” he concluded.

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Britain’s foreign secretary, Liz Truss, is drafting legislative proposals for British lawmakers that she says will make it easier to freeze Russian assets with financial ties to Putin and his government.

The UK sanctions regime currently only covers properties registered in the UK that may be linked to businesses or individuals that may have been linked to Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.

There will be “nowhere to hide” for Putin’s oligarchs, Truss told Britain’s Times Radio on Sunday. Truss said the new law would widen the scope of the sanctions.

Bill Brower, a British-American financier who has long campaigned to expose high-level corruption in Russia, has been urging British officials for years to target oligarchs affiliated with Putin. In 2018, in the wake of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal’s poisoning on English soil, he told British lawmakers that Western weakness only embraced the Kremlin. The British government blamed the Kremlin for the attempted assassination of Skripal and his daughter, which Russia denies.

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“The Achilles heel of the Putin regime is to pursue them in Britain by confiscating the assets of Putin-affiliated oligarchs,” he argued. He told a British parliamentary panel that about $800 billion in Russian state-backed assets, mostly real estate, is held outside Russia and could be targeted. Approximately $300 billion in cash and assets is estimated to be in the United States.

According to a 2018 report by Transparency International, large amounts of Russian state-backed money controlled by Putin-linked oligarchs flowed through British Crown dependencies and British Overseas Territories in the Caribbean and then transferred to the British capital.

File - A Pedestrian Uses The Waterloo Bridge To Cross The River Thames In The Background Of London'S Skyscrapers And Offices On January 29, 2022.

FILE – A pedestrian uses the Waterloo Bridge to cross the River Thames in the background of London’s skyscrapers and offices on January 29, 2022.

According to Robert Barrington of Transparency International, “London has certain advantages and Russians have always found London particularly attractive.” “It has Crown dependencies and these historical ties with foreign territories, so it is very easy to be part of that global laundering system. It is also a huge market in itself, so if you want to hide dirty money, do that. Gets easier,” he said.

Anti-corruption campaigners say there was a huge jump in Russian money flow to London after the 2008 financial crash, partly because Britain attracted foreign funding and offered investor visas easily with very few questions asked. . An estimated 500 Russian multi-millionaires live in the UK.

His cash has driven up real estate prices and helped provide a substantial portion of the income of British bankers, fund managers, lawyers and PR executives, along with the profits of expensive private schools and specialty stores. Westminster, a central London borough, has over 10,000 properties owned by unidentified companies; Some are considered to be Chinese or Gulf Arab in origin, but many are Russian.

The British government announced new asset-confiscation powers in 2017 known as the Unexplained Money Order, which allows for the confiscation of property without proving criminality and the burden of proof on owners to explain their wealth. puts. Britain’s Eye newspaper reported last week that officials were looking to issue more unexplained money orders in case Russia invades Ukraine, forcing those who asked President Putin to explain the origins of their funds. were forced to maintain tight relations for


But some skeptics have doubts about the authorities’ determination to go against Russian funding. They note that only five such orders have been issued since 2017. “No one has done more to drive the flood of money out of Russia than an army of London lawyers, bankers and accountants; none has been more friendly to Putin’s oligarchs than Britain’s politicians is,” wrote Oliver Bullough in the UK Sunday Times This week.

Bullow, author of “Butler to the World: How Britain Becomes the Servant of Tycoons, Tax Dodgers, Kleptocrats and Criminals”, says: “If the government really wants to help Ukraine, it should give Putin’s oligarchs their cash house. Must be forced to move.”

Critics also say the government needs to emphasize that the so-called crown dependency in the Caribbean needs to introduce stricter transparency rules for money deposited abroad. And he worries that Russian elite wealth and assets are well hidden behind shell companies.

In December, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged to force offshore companies to declare their ownership, and to deal with criminals abusing UK-registered shell companies. He promised at the Summit hosted by America for Democracy, a virtual conference that explored how to strengthen the world’s democracies.

The chairman of the House of Commons’ foreign affairs committee, Tom Tugendhat, said he plans to hold a new set of new hearings in London to discuss the assets and investments of Russian oligarchs. His committee did the same thing in 2018 and recommended several steps, but the recommendations languished.


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