“Gloves are off now”

View of London, March 26, 2020.  (Andrew Tester / New York Times)

View of London, March 26, 2020. (Andrew Tester / New York Times)

London — On Friday, the day after Britain blacklisted seven prominent Russian oligarchs, residents of Kensington and Chelsea’s wealthy London Autonomous Region were in front of a multi-million dollar townhouse owned by the president’s family. Rolled a washing machine full of fake pound bills in Azerbaijan.

It was the camera-enabled stunts that caused the serious problem. For Britain to succeed in curbing a flood of dirty money, there is a phenomenon called “London laundromat.” This needs to do more than impose sanctions on prominent Russians like Rome. Abramovich, the owner of the billionaire of the Chelsea football club.

Ilham Aliyev, Azerbaijan’s leader, is one of the hundreds of wealthy foreigners under the net of offshore companies that use loose UK regulations to accumulate property and other assets and disguise ownership. am. Others are transforming their property into the social status of gilts, donating to the respected British cultural education institutions, and donating money to the Conservative Party.

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Targeting these numbers is even more difficult than chasing bold names like Abramovich, whose relationship with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has been well documented over the years. But Kensington protesters said such efforts were very important if Britain really wanted to get rid of dirty money.

“The crisis has exposed the Kremlin-related money problem in the UK, but it’s a much more systematic and global problem because London protects this kind of money,” said neighborhood group Kensington. Flo Hatchings, who helped establish Against Dirty Money, said. “I hope this situation has a snowball effect.”

On Friday, Britain hit that direction and imposed sanctions on 386 members of Duma, the House of Commons of the Russian Parliament, for recognizing the independence of the two separatist regions of Ukraine, Donetsk and Luhansk. This will prevent lawmakers from traveling to the UK and freezing domestic assets. This can be a significant penalty for Duma members who do not have oligarch-scale wealth.

Even some of Britain’s toughest critics said the latest move showed a new commitment. In addition to Abramovich, the government has blacklisted Putin’s best friend, Igor Setin, who runs oil giant Rosneft. Andrey Kostin, a banker known for renting a luxury ski chalet at a World Economic Forum conference in Davos, Switzerland. Oleg Deripaska is a connected businessman.

Deripaska hired Greg Barker, a conservative member of the House of Lords, as chairman of his partially owned metal company. Last week, under intense political pressure, Barker resigned from the company’s board of directors.

“Gloves are now being removed in the UK,” said William F. Brouder, an American-born British financial firm who campaigned against corruption and human rights abuses in Russia. “They attacked Deripaska, who has his own representative in the House of Lords. I don’t think they are avoiding anyone in particular.”

Still, at some level, the UK is simply catching up. Most of the Russians blacklisted by the United Kingdom had already been punished by the United States or the European Union. Britain has imposed sanctions on 18 oligarchs since the start of Russia’s attack on Ukraine, but on February 24, the list was blacklisted by imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. It includes less than half of the 35 people identified as candidates for listing. Their role in supporting a corrupt system.

Analysts are likely to have left London real estate, but the UK signaled action against Duma members last month, effectively giving the UK time to clear its bank accounts.

Kris Bryant, a member of the opposition Labor Party, is calling on the government to do more. To eradicate corrupt money.

Another tactic for the wealthiest oligarchs is to make generous donations to arts, education and charity. This is a form of “reputation laundering” that makes it difficult to punish them. A handful of oligarchs are pillars of British society.

In a December report on corrupt money in Britain, diplomatic research institute Chatham House quoted Russian financier Dmitry Lewis. , And a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. “

“He also tried to become a patron of the Prince of Wales Foundation with a donation of £ 535,000,” the report said. “But the Foundation later returned the donation, knowing that Lewis had spent time in a Russian prison.”

Leonard Bravatonick, a Ukrainian-born English-American billionaire, donated about $ 100 million to Oxford University to build a government school. His name is on the wings of the Tate Institute of Contemporary Art in London. Bravatonic, one of Britain’s wealthiest people, built his fortune in the post-Soviet division and invested in his fellow oligarch Viktor Vekselberg, but kept him away from Putin. ..

“We need to be careful about where we draw the line,” said Joe Powell, founder of Kensington Against Dirty Money, chasing individuals. “This does not mean an anti-Russian or anti-Russian campaign. This is first about transparency.”

According to the State Department, it is easy for activists to spotlight Azerbaijan’s leader, Aliev, whose government is engaged in crackdowns and human rights abuses. According to Powell, the problem with the influx of money like Aliev is to distort the real estate market, scarce affordable homes and leave thousands of luxury homes empty.

Kensington Townhouses are one of London’s $ tens of millions worth of real estate portfolios, each owned by Aliev or an offshore company affiliated with his relatives. Details of ownership were revealed in the Pandora Papers, a pile of leaked financial statements issued from October by an international consortium of investigative journalists.

But so far, nothing has urged Britain to act on Aliev. Even if he and Putin are friendly, his country is not involved in the war in Ukraine. Azerbaijan also maintains friendly relations with the United Kingdom, a major investor in the energy industry. Last year, Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson toasted 30 years of diplomatic relations, saying “cooperation is currently the best ever.”

Johnson has sought sanctions against Russia, including removing banks from SWIFT’s financial transfer network, but it was slow to target the wealthy Russians in London. Critics say it reflects the fact that his Conservatives were the beneficiaries of their masses.

Since Johnson took office as Prime Minister in 2019, the opposition Labor Party has calculated that the party or its member associations have received £ 1.93 million (about $ 2.5 million) from Russians or donors who made money from Russia. increase. Disclosure to the Election Commission. The Tories typically collect over £ 20 million ($ 26 million) in personal donations annually.

Among the Tory donors in Russia were businessman Alexander Temerco and financier Rubov Chernukin, who played tennis in exchange for a check before becoming prime minister.

Thomas Mine, a visiting researcher at Chatham House and the author of the report, said: “These are people who have a very clear connection to the Kremlin or those who have played a role in the past that could cause security problems.”

Such concerns arose in the case of Evgeny Lebedev, a 44-year-old Russian and British reporter baron, a friend of Johnson, who gave him a seat in the House of Lords. Lebedev’s father, Alexander Lebedev, was a KGB official who became an oligarch. Security agencies asked about his father’s career, but Johnson went ahead, according to someone familiar with the matter.

“For years we were blind to this, and suddenly we are worried about Russian money,” Meinu said. “Well, it’s a little too late.”

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