PM pledges new law to tackle ‘dirty’ Russian money in wake of Ukraine crisis

MPs from both the Tories and Labour were critical about why it had taken the current tension for the Government to act.

15 February 2022

The UK wants to “strengthen” measures against “ill-gotten Russian money” following concerns not enough has been done to tackle “dirty money” coming into the country.

The Prime Minister said the Economic Crime Bill would “hit companies” laundering Kremlin-linked Russian money through Britain, as he vowed to “open up the Matryoshka doll” to find out who owns companies and properties operating domestically.

It comes after Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said UK sanctions if Moscow invades Ukraine would be severe in targeting “oligarchs” and “companies across Russia”.

Conservative MPs had been critical of what they have perceived to be a lack of action on honing in on Russian money being invested in Britain.

Bob Seely, a member of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC), said Britain was “a decade behind the times” on the threat posed by Russian financial influence.

He welcomed Boris Johnson’s announcement and said the move could act as a “subtle containment policy” when it came to dealing with Moscow.

The Isle of Wight MP told the PA news agency: “On Russia, we have known about this problem for years.

“The problem is that the front line with Ukraine is the border, the front line with Germany is the gas pipeline – and the front line with the UK is the City of London.

“We need to be wiser about how the Putin regime acts and the potential threat to our institutions and values, and how we can protect them against a potential tsunami of questionable money.”

He said there was a need to learn how to “deal with a long-term authoritarian regime”, until there is a change in the Kremlin.

Mr Seely also said any legislation should be widely targeted enough to incorporate the growing threat posed by China.

FAC chairman Tom Tugendhat said it was time to clean out money from British politics that had originated in Russia.

“Frankly, get it out and get it out now,” he told Times Radio.

There was cross-party agreement that the changes being proposed in the Government’s economic crime legislation had been needed well before the crisis with Ukraine developed.

Senior Labour MP Chris Bryant, who is also an FAC member, told PA: “This should have been in place before this whole saga, not after.

“Talk about the horse having bolted.”

Mr Bryant said warnings about Russian money had come from the Foreign Affairs Committee in 2018 with its Moscow’s Gold report, as well as 2020’s Intelligence and Security Committee report on Russian influence in Britain’s democracy.

He added: “It is like the Prime Minister has finally woken up to contraception the day after conception.”

But the Prime Minister, speaking after a Cobra meeting about Ukraine and Russia border tensions, defended the UK’s record on tackling Russian monetary influence at home.

Asked about reported concerns that the Government has not done enough to stop the flow of dirty money, he told broadcasters: “I don’t think that it’s fair to say the UK hasn’t done a huge amount on dirty money, whether it’s from Russia or anywhere else.”

Mr Johnson added: “What we want to do is strengthen now the package that we have, strengthen the measures we have against potential ill-gotten Russian money, whether here or anywhere for … which we have responsibility, with new measures that will hit the companies and concerns that I’ve talked about.

“But also open up the Matryoshka doll, if you like – you know what I’m talking about – so that we see … who really owns the companies that we’re talking about, who really owns the properties that we’re talking about, and those measures, yes, we will be bringing forward from the Economic Crime Bill.”

He signalled that the Bill would be brought forward in the next Queen’s Speech.

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