Moscow's gold: How ‘dirty’ Russian money is fuelling Vladimir Putin’s empire
Friday - 01/06/2018 10:13
VLADIMIR Putin is being hated on by the whole world. But there is a terrifying reason he doesn’t care and has the upper hand.
RUSSIAN President Vladimir Putin is used to being held in contempt by the international community, which has blamed his country for everything from a poisoning attack to the MH17 atrocity.
But there is a compelling reason Mr Putin is unswayed by the condemnation. A major new report in Britain has exposed the way he has continued “business as usual” by hiding “corrupt assets” in London.
“These assets, on which the Kremlin can call at any time, both directly and indirectly, support President Putin’s campaign to subvert the international rules-based system, undermine our allies, and erode the mutually reinforcing international networks that support UK foreign policy,” the startling report by the House of Commons foreign affairs select committee said.
The committee has called on the British Government not to turn a “blind eye” and to get tough with what has been branded “dirty Russian money” by tightening loopholes and zeroing in on Kremlin-backed operatives responsible for human rights violations.
London is a favourite of cashed-up Russians, including many with tight ties to the Kremlin.
The report, Moscow’s Gold: Russian Corruption In The UK, highlighted a boastful tweet from the Russian Embassy in London that said, “Business as usual?” after a major Russian gas company was able to trade bonds in London only days after the assassination attempts on former Russian intelligence officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.
The UK expelled Russian diplomats after the Novichok nerve agent attack on the Skripals, with Prime Minister Theresa May warning that Russia was a threat to the international community.
But the report said more needed to be done — and quickly.
“This has clear implications for our national security. Turning a blind eye to London’s
role in hiding the proceeds of Kremlin-connected corruption risks signalling that the
UK is not serious about confronting the full spectrum of President Putin’s offensive
measures,” it said.
“The government must show stronger political leadership in ending the flow of dirty money into the UK.”
Professor Anastasia Nesvetailova, a lecturer in international political economics, told news.com.au it would be very difficult to remove Russian money from London “especially in the current political climate”.
“What complicates matters is that the money that is already in London is in fact, mostly clean money — that is the whole point of passing it through chains of offshore accounts and corporate sells into London. It is there to be used as capital, and therefore needs to appear legitimate.”
The idea that all Russian money is somehow dirty, and the money of Kremlin sympathisers was dirty, oversimplified matters.
“For instance, it may be easy to assume that a young Russian fin-tech investor in London who is a critique of Kremlin operates with clean capital, earned recently mostly in the global economy. But how do you classify the capital of a rich political refugee currently living in London who is a critique of the regime, but some part of his money in the 1990s was connected to the shadow economy and/or crime? Or a family of bankers or asset managers who work for US clients in London, live in a property that their parents bought with suspicious money, are Kremlin sympathisers but are UK citizens? And what to do with the capital of other ‘oligarchs’, who are not necessarily Russian but say, Ukrainian, who accumulated their initial money in the anarchic 1990s, currently live in London and are UK citizens?”
The bottom line was drawing boundaries would complicated, she said.
While the report acknowledged the “robust” response by the British Government to the Skripal attack, it accused ministers of presiding over a scattered approach that was not packing a hard enough punch.
“The UK’s role as a financial centre and G7 member gives it significant leverage in seeking to counter the Kremlin’s aggressive behaviour. But reacting in an ad hoc way to the Kremlin’s behaviour has led to a disjointed approach. The UK must set out a coherent and proactive strategy on Russia, led by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and co-ordinated across the whole of government, that clearly links together the diplomatic, military and financial tools that the UK can use to counter Russian state aggression.”
“I think it is clear from the conversations in Moscow that the presence of loopholes in the existing sanctions regime is one of the things that they point to to ‘prove’ that the West is either not serious about sanctions, or just incompetent,” Mark Galeotti, author of book The Vory: Russia’s Super Mafia, told the committee.
Unsurprisingly, the Russians have a different view.
Andrey Kortunov is director general of a think tank called Russian International Affairs Council which receives funding from the Russian government. He argued that not all the Russian money in the UK came from Putin sympathisers.
“I don’t think we can argue that most of the Russian money which is parked in London is used to serve the interests of Russian foreign policy,” he told the BBC.
“There are very different people, their stories are diverse and some of them are very strong opponents of the Russian leadership.”
One anti-corruption expert is quoted in the report detailing how Russians have moved an estimated 100 billion pounds into Britain over the last 20 years, although he said only a fraction of that came from crime and corruption. The scale of such investments makes it difficult for the UK to impose meaningful economic sanctions on Russia for fear of harming British business interests and innocent Russians.
Russian ambassador to London Alexander Yakovenko warned that Russian citizens in the UK capital could take legal action if they were targeted.
“We believe that the statements like ‘someone is a friend of somebody’ is not the legal basis for taking decisions against someone,” he told The Guardian.
He went on to say that Russian citizens based in London “could go to the courts and put certain things in front of the courts”.
“They are going to complain — some of them are preparing these moves and the government should think twice.”