Why British Tories Are Addicted to Russian Money – POLITICO

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LONDON – For years, Britain’s Conservatives have promised to get rid of Russia’s dirty currency, but their own politics continue to stand in their way.

With the Russian military now expanding terror into Ukraine, the UK government is under pressure to show the world that “Londongrad” is no longer a cozy place for stubborn billionaires to launder their money and reputations through. lavish properties and expensive schools for their children.

But while Boris Johnson’s administration wants to explain that it has imposed sanctions on individuals and companies with links to Vladimir Putin and accelerated the Economic Crimes Bill, which aims to launder money, Some in his party worry that the government has left it too late.

Previous efforts to start from scratch have been hampered by a commitment to an economy where money can be laundered unchecked – a stance that fits both ideology, insiders say. party and the need to boost the British economy.

A key takeaway, a former No 10 Downing Street adviser explains, is that “the Tory orthodoxy, also the Treasury orthodoxy, that the economy needs to be completely open.”

The Conservatives take a similar approach to their finances, accepting donations from people with ties to the Kremlin or making their millions in Russia and the former Soviet Union. While such gifts to the party are legal in so far as they’ve been duly claimed, critics frequently draw a line between high-profile Tories and some pretty badass characters.

The politics that prompted the first two issues was then driven by a divisive political environment in which the legitimacy of the Brexit referendum was hotly contested. Desperate to push Brexit through, Johnson’s election-winning Conservatives have resisted any suggestion of excessive Russian pressure on British political life and questions about dirty money. , again, cast aside.

Hiding in a clear sign

It’s not like no one has tried grappling with these questions.

In 2016, David Cameron swear At a UK-hosted anti-corruption summit, foreign companies that own assets will be forced to disclose who actually owns them, a measure that, if implemented, would close one of the most important avenues for investors. emphasis on the economy for people who want to clean up their money.

In 2017 the UK introduced an “unexplained wealth order” and in 2018 the Anti-Money Laundering and Sanctions Act, together with the so-called Magnitsky amendment, allowed sanctions with excessive human rights violations.

While these measures represent progress, they have ultimately failed to address the full extent of the UK’s vulnerability as a dirty money settlement – detailed by numerous organisations. consultants, journalists and even by a main report by the UK Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee in 2020.

That report found Russian influence in the UK was the “new normal” and that “there are many Russians with very close connections to Putin who integrate well into the UK’s business and social environment.” Great Britain, and accepted for their wealth”.

“This level of integration,” the report added, “means that whatever measures the government is taking today are not prevention but damage limitation.”

The release of the report itself was repeatedly thwarted and in the end, the government had to shrug its shoulders as ministers emphasized their commitment to tackling illicit money while denying the suggestion of Russian actors playing a role. some role in Brexit.

The legislation currently seen as the solution – the Economic Crimes Bill – has been delayed for some time. When a minister recently relinquished the government’s record of handling fraud, he continued request His former colleagues want to delay the bill for at least another year.

Transparency International has identified a number of weaknesses in the government’s plan, including an 18-month implementation period, inadequate penalties for those who break the rules, and no accurate records. about who holds what property.

The series of sanctions introduced since the invasion of Ukraine also got off to an uncertain start, dripping in a process the Times said. report may take months. Downing Street has emphasized the need to meet all applicable regulatory requirements for what it describes as an unprecedented package of measures.

A No 10 spokesman said last week “we are doing everything we can to crack down on illegal money” and “we shouldn’t just focus on individuals but on what puts the most pressure on the regime”. Putin.”

Two former Cabinet ministers who have been critical of the government on other issues said a gradual roll-out of sanctions was the right approach.

Many Conservatives, even those who want to reform, complain that the entire debate around donating has been carried out in a hysterical atmosphere. They defended the party’s need to solicit donations, arguing that their political impact had been overstated and pointing out that it was not just a Tory problem.

Others attributed the lack of action in the Russia 2020 report, at least in part, to what they had to say about Brexit. Dominic Grieve, former president of The Intelligence and Security Committee, said there was a “confusion” that the outcome could have been influenced by hostile actors, it had begun not wanting to look too closely at it.

Number 10 Downing Street and the Conservative Party did not respond to requests for comment.

Political change

Although it may have backed Russia on the ground to push the government into action, the sands have turned to the Conservative Party. Individual Tory MPs are increasingly willing to question the pure free-market ideology associated with former Prime Minister Cameron and then Prime Minister George Osborne, which is primarily China-oriented but also has an eye Russia.

Bob Seely and Tom Tugendhat, both former soldiers interested in foreign affairs, are among the MPs who have called on the government to move forward with the crackdown. Last week, he used his legal immunity as a member of the House of Representatives to name lawyers who have defended oligarchs linked to Putin.

Nigel Mills, a Conservative MP and co-chair of a parliamentary group on anti-corruption, said the government’s past inconsistencies had weakened the government exactly when it needed to act. fast.

“We need a fight for the government to decide this is the moral and ethical thing to do,” he told a conference organized by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Combating Corruption and Responsible Taxation. “Just think how much better position we would be last Thursday if we had these measures in place and we already know where all these kleptocrats get their wealth and can move fast. much more.”

While they may not have said so openly, some in the party agree with the opposition’s criticism of the government on the issue, which could have been a factor in the unusual offer of the party. Johnson on working together to improve the Economic Crimes Bill.

And while many previous attempts to define Britain’s role in the post-Brexit world have failed, the attempt to boycott the Kremlin offers the Prime Minister an opportunity to show that the UK can indeed act appropriately. cooperate with allies when intended.

Johnson in the country suffering from the Partygate scandal, which has seen police investigating whether parties going bankrupt with the coronavirus broke the law, may also have taken tough action against the money. Dirty more likely. A former government official noted that “this happened at a time [the prime minister’s] being under a lot of pressure “and” although no one would expect something like this to happen, it is a useful way of a prime minister showing that there are other parts of his job that really important. “

While the Londongrad support system faces overdue reckoning, the Conservative Party is also expected to take a closer look at its own inner workings.

Many in the private party were uncomfortable with some of CCHQ’s fundraising antics, particularly the efforts of party co-chair Ben Elliot, who had disclosure set up an “advisory group” that gives donors access to the prime minister’s top team.

“It’s all about serving a pretty tough group of people,” said senior Tory, who predicts those practices will begin to change.

This, however, offers little comfort to the harshest critics of Russian influence in British life, who fear that years of failure to resolve the issue has left a mark. long-term damage to both the country and the people in government.

As a former party adviser observed: “It’s all well and good to say we’ve changed, but it’s ridiculous. Too late “.

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