Boris Johnson under pressure to widen sanctions against more oligarchs in London | Russia
New anti-corruption measures to help trace Russian assets in London and confiscate ‘dirty money’ must be accelerated by the government.
Ministers plan to strengthen unexplained wealth orders, which can be used to seize illicit assets. The orders have had limited success so far after legal challenges.
The government will also shortly announce its proposals for reform of the Economic Crimes Bill, which will include an overseas real estate property register and reforms to Companies House. Labor criticized the government after years of delays in implementing reforms.
Boris Johnson said last week the government would set up a “kleptocracy cell” within the National Crime Agency to target sanctions evasion and Russian assets hidden in the UK. He said it would mean the London oligarchs would have “nowhere to hide”.
While the government has introduced sanctions since invading Ukraine, it is under pressure to expand measures against key figures who amassed huge fortunes under Putin’s rule.
Ministers are being called on to apply sanctions against the 35 oligarchs and “enablers” of the Putin regime on a list compiled by imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
The list, read out to parliament last week by a Liberal Democrat MP, Layla Moran, includes oligarchs with close ties to London, including Roman Abramovich and Oleg Deripaska. The government last week named eight people it was sanctioning, but only two, Gennady Timchenko, a Russian investor and Putin ally, and Denis Bortnikov, vice chairman of Russia’s state-owned bank VTB, are on the Navalny list.
Bill Browder, a financier and critic of Russia, said those on the Navalny list should now be sanctioned by the UK, adding: “You don’t become an oligarch unless you’re basically in cahoots with Putin. “.
Abramovich has extensive interests in Britain, including his ownership of Chelsea football club and a multimillion-pound property empire, which reportedly includes a £150million mansion near Kensington Palace. Abramovich disputed reports suggesting his alleged closeness to Putin and Russia, or that he did anything to deserve sanctions.
Chris Bryant, the Labor MP, told MPs last week that he had received leaked documents from the Home Office which raised concerns about Abramovich because of his ties to the Russian state and his “association public with corrupt activities and practices”. Bryant said: “Surely Mr. Abramovich should no longer be able to own a football club in this country?” The tycoon has not commented on the allegations but last night said he was handing over the “stewardship” of the club to the trustees of his charitable foundation.
Deripaska, an industrial tycoon, has been sanctioned by the US since 2018, but no action has been taken against him in the UK. He is one of the main shareholders of the aluminum company EN+, listed on the London Stock Exchange. Deripaska sued to challenge the US sanctions, but was unsuccessful. He denied any wrongdoing and said the US allegations against him were based on false rumors fueled by rivals.
Another member of the Russian elite on the Navalny list is former Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov, now the head of Vnesheconombank (VEB), the Russian state development corporation. Shuvalov was placed on an EU sanctions list last week but was not among the eight people sanctioned by the UK. He has two apartments in Whitehall Court, an imposing building built in the style of a French chateau overlooking the River Thames, bought in August 2014 for £11.4m.
On Thursday, the UK government announced sanctions it said were designed to inflict “maximum and lasting pain on Russia” and “devastate” the country’s economy. The measures include asset freezes and travel bans affecting more than 100 companies and oligarchs that she said were “at the heart of Putin’s regime”, including VTB, Russia’s second-largest bank; Rostec, Russia’s largest defense company, and Tactical Missiles Corporation, the country’s leading supplier of air and sea missiles.
The international community yesterday moved closer to expelling Russia from the SWIFT payment system used by thousands of banks, a sanction that would cripple the country’s economy by making international money transfers much more difficult.
It emerged over the weekend that Italy and Hungary have changed their positions and will now support the move, leaving Germany appearing isolated on the issue in Europe. Boris Johnson has pledged to support a ban.
Meanwhile, a Russian freighter carrying cars to St Petersburg was prevented from crossing the English Channel on Saturday under new EU sanctions. The 127-meter vessel had sailed from the French city of Rouen but was intercepted by French naval forces and escorted to the port of Boulogne-sur-Mer between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. local time, officials said. The regional maritime prefecture told Reuters that the ship was “strongly suspected of being linked to sanctioned Russian interests” and that its seizure was a “sign of firmness”.