LONDON – UK lawmakers intend to pass on Monday a bill aimed at tightening sanctions against Russia and eradicating money obtained illegally from the British economy.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the economic crime bill would allow the UK authorities to “persecute Putin’s allies (Russian President Vladimir) in the UK with full support for the law, without any doubt or legal challenge”.
On Monday, Johnson met with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Dutch leader Mark Rutte to discuss tightening the West’s response to the invasion.
But critics say the British government is trying – belatedly – to fix the problems it has created. Opposition politicians and anti-corruption activists say Johnson’s Conservatives have for many years illegally allowed property, banks and businesses into the UK, turning London into a “laundry” for dirty money.
Johnson has repeatedly stated that Britain is leading international efforts to punish Putin for invading Ukraine. The UK has imposed sanctions on a number of Russian banks and businesses, which the government says have cut Russia’s economic activity by more than £ 250 billion ($ 330 million). However, so far he has imposed sanctions on only a few Kremlin-linked individuals with assets in the UK, which is less than in the EU or the US
This has provoked harsh criticism, which seems to be having an effect. Two weeks ago, Johnson said a bill on economic crimes would be passed in the fall. Over the weekend, he announced that on Monday it would be held through parliament.
The bill would require foreign firms with assets in the UK to disclose their true owners, attempt to crack down on money laundering and use shady front companies to buy businesses and real estate.
Initially, the law gave companies 18 months to comply. It has been cut to six months, but critics say it should be even shorter. Labor spokesman Jonathan Reynolds said the grace period was a “free exit ticket for the oligarchs”.
Opposition lawmakers are urging the government to seize the oligarchs’ property in Britain immediately. imitating Italywhich confiscated 143 million euros ($ 156 million) in luxury yachts and villas.
The government says the new law will also facilitate sanctions against people and firms that have already come under sanctions from allies including the US, Canada and the EU. Critics say the current rules include too much legal red tape that can be used to prevent sanctions.
The British Conservatives, who have been in power since 2010, are proud to make the UK an attractive place for the world’s rich people to live and invest. Many of the super-rich own London mansions, send their children to private English schools and hire a fleet of public relations consultants and lawyers to look after their reputations – so British libel laws that help applicants help.
The anti-corruption group Transparency International says that Russians linked to the Kremlin or accused of corruption own property in London worth 1.5 billion pounds ($ 2 billion).
In an outrageous report in 2020, which was postponed by the government for several months, the Parliamentary Committee on Intelligence and Security said that since the 1990s, Britain “welcomed Russian money, and asked several questions – if any – about the origins of this significant wealth ”.
“There are many Russians with very close ties to Putin who are well integrated into the UK business and social scene and are accepted because of their wealth,” the report said.
Transparency members say the ruling Conservatives have received £ 2 million ($ 2.7 million) in donations from people linked to Russia since Johnson became prime minister in 2019. The party says all its donors are registered voters in the UK, as required by law.
Opposition politicians are demanding why Johnson bequeathed a noble title and a seat in the House of Lords to Yevgeny Lebedev, a Russian-born owner of two British newspapers. His oligarch father, Alexander Lebedev, is a former KGB agent, and the Sunday Times reported that British intelligence services have expressed concern about the 2020 appointment.
Johnson’s office said all the peers were being checked by the appointments commission, and Johnson refused to intervene to allay Lebedev’s concerns.
European Minister James Cleverley defended Lebedev’s title, saying that “what your father did for work” does not matter.
“My father was a former surveyor, but I’m not,” he told the BBC.
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