- The UK government’s long-awaited Magnitsky legislation getting Royal Assent
- Law will allow sanctions to be imposed on those linked to human rights abuses
- Campaigners and MPs want ministers to make immediate use of the new powers
Ministers are facing demands to hammer Russian oligarchs with tough sanctions today as the new Magnitsky law comes into force.
Campaigners and MPs want the government to make immediate use of the powers to hit allies of Vladimir Putin linked to human rights abuses.
The calls come amid signs a wider crack down is already under way on wealthy Russians in Britain – with delays in issuing a new visa to Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich.
The issues with Mr Abramovich’s visa case are separate to the Magnitsky measures. Sources close to the billionaire have reportedly denied he is being asked to prove where his money comes from, instead blaming normal visa processing delays.
But with relations between the countries the worst for decades, security minister Ben Wallace has made clear he expects more oligarchs will find life ‘trickier’ in London in the future.
The Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act containing the Magnitsky measures is due to get Royal Assent later, and allows Whitehall to take swingeing steps including freezing assets when people are linked to human rights abuses.
The sanctions were named to commemorate Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who claimed in 2008 that fraud was being committed by corrupt Interior Ministry officials.
Mr Magnitsky was arrested shortly after, accused of stealing the money himself and died a year later in jail after what supporters claim was a systematic torture campaign.
The US magnitsky’s law has since been extended to include allegations beyond that particular case
Financier Bill Browder, who employed Mr Magnitsky and campaigned for parliament to pass the law, said there should be ‘swift and robust action’ by the UK government and ‘top Putin oligarchs should be on that list’.
The US version of Magnitsky ‘definitely affected the psychology of Putin, and if the British government were to do anything less it would tell Russia it can keep killing people on British soil’, he told the Guardian.
John Penrose, a Conservative backbencher and former minister, also said it was time for the UK to follow the US lead.
‘Given the extensive intelligence sharing and security co-operation between Britain and USA, if we don’t announce our own sanctions pretty soon it will look extremely odd.
‘The UK needs to publish a British equivalent of the US’s list right now.’
The law would stop individuals known to be corrupt or who abuse human rights from travelling to and living in Britain, and politicians backing it say this will help stop London becoming a destination for dodgy Russian money.
The US passed its Magnitsky Act in 2012.
It initially imposed asset freezes on individuals linked to that case – but was later extended to those who had profited from other human rights abuses.
The US list includes Mr Abramovich and other senior business figures like Oleg Deripaska. There are no suggestions that either would feature on a British version.
The UK is only the third country to adopt similar measures, after Estonia followed the US in 2016. MPs passed an amendment introducing the powers in February, despite some resistance from the government.
Canada and the EU have been considering their own versions.
Security minister Mr Wallace was asked during an interview yesterday if there would be ‘more cases over the next few weeks’ where wealthy oligarchs were finding it a bit more ‘tricky’ to live in London.
‘I think I can say yes. We have put in place a series of powers through legislation,’ he said.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson suggested this week that was looking at Donald Trump’s recent decision to target dozens of tycoons, companies and key allies of Mr Putin.
‘The truth is actually that I think the effect of some of those sanctions particularly on some individuals has been very marked, and I’ve noted that, but we have our own systems and our own approach,’ Mr Johnson told reporters on a trip to south America.
‘There is a broader question about what the UK can do to crack down on people close to Putin who may have illicit or ill-gotten wealth.’
Separately, sources close to Mr Abramovich today denied he has been ordered to explain the origin of his wealth as part of his visa renewal application.
The Chelsea FC owner is at the centre of the latest spat between Britain and Russia after it emerged his latest UK visa has not yet been approved.
It has been claimed this week that the Russian is effectively banned from Britain until he can show his money is clean.
But a source close to the oligarch insisted his finances were not being inspected and the visa renewal was simply taking longer than usual.
An associate told Russia’s state-owned Sputnik news agency: ‘He was not asked to explain the source of his capital.’
The source said Abramovich is undergoing ‘the usual process of visa renewal, just longer than usual’ and there are ‘no additional requirements’.
Mr Johnson has declined to comment on Mr Abramovich’s case, but cited a ‘broader question’ about what Britain can do ‘to crack down on people close to Putin who may have illicit or ill-gotten wealth’.
He pointed out that US sanctions on Putin’s cronies has had a ‘very marked’ effect on ‘some individuals’.
It is thought that Abramovich is required to prove his wealth is legitimate and is effectively banned from Britain until he can show his money is clean.
Other super-rich oligarchs in the UK also face being caught up in the clampdown on foreign cash deemed ‘not conducive to public good’.
It follows months of tensions between the UK and Russia in the wake of the poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury.
The Government blamed Russia for the attack, with Theresa May describing the incident as ‘despicable’ and expelling a number of Russian diplomats.
Britain’s tough stance on foreign money has sparked a furious backlash from the Kremlin. Vladimir Putin’s spokesman condemned the UK’s ‘unfair and unfriendly’ approach to Russian businessmen.
The crackdown means Mr Abramovich, who is away from Britain and missed his club’s FA Cup win on Saturday, is being treated as a ‘new applicant’ for a UK visa, it is understood.
Under new rules to stamp out ‘dirty money’, the oligarch – who is close to Mr Putin – will have to demonstrate that his fortune is above board.
Mr Abramovich is worth £9.3billion. Technically, he will need to show that at least £2million of his investment in the UK is from legal sources.
He has held UK visas for many years, but the rules were tightened in 2015, after he obtained his most recent 40-month visa.