UK plans to penalise Russian oligarchs and cronies of Putin over Ukraine do not go far enough says DUP MP Sammy Wilson

Before Prime Minister’s questions in the House of Commons yesterday, the Speaker welcomed the Ukraine Ambassador to the public gallery.

MPs give a standing ovation to Ambassador of Ukraine to the UK Vadym Prystaiko who was in the public gallery, above right.  Sammy Wilson says: "It was one of the most emotional moments I have experienced in my 17 years in Parliament" Photo: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/PA Wire
MPs give a standing ovation to Ambassador of Ukraine to the UK Vadym Prystaiko who was in the public gallery, above right. Sammy Wilson says: "It was one of the most emotional moments I have experienced in my 17 years in Parliament" Photo: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/PA Wire

Before Prime Minister’s questions in the House of Commons yesterday, the Speaker welcomed the Ukraine Ambassador to the public gallery.

What followed was one of the most emotional moments I have experienced in my 17 years in Parliament. The whole House rose and stood in prolonged applause as they expressed their genuine support for the people of Ukraine who are experiencing the iron fist of Putin’s army as he brutally seeks to stamp out Ukraine’s independence and destroy its democracy.

Having met the ambassador on several occasions since the Russian threats to his country have become more intense, I know that this unassuming, determined, and gracious man will have taken encouragement from the unprecedented display of support.

Sammy Wilson, who represents East Antrim, hopes that the government will take advantage of the cross-party unity in Westminster over Ukraine

The ordinary people of Russia are being abused by a gangster regime which has plundered the riches of its resources to line their own pockets. Billions of pounds have then been moved to countries around the world to buy assets and political influence. London and the UK generally is one of the prime destinations for scores of those who are laundering the proceeds of state criminals in Russia headed by Putin.

Apart from the legal and moral requirement to stop our country becoming the vehicle for hiding and laundering this dirty money, dealing with this issue is an essential part of dealing with an increasingly dangerous, aggressive, and irrational dictator, who has the frightening ability to turn the war in Ukraine into a much wider world conflict, a conflict in which he has now signalled he would be prepared to use nuclear arms in. The one way of weakening Putin’s grip on his own country is to hurt his cronies economically and damage his ability to buy influence and military muscle through financial patronage based on stolen Russian assets.

Our government should have dealt with this issue years ago, but successive governments of all parties did not do so.

After all the Russian oligarchs and their billions fuelled the London housing market, stock exchange, banks, professional services, high class shops private schools, tax revenues and so much more. They also cultivated friends amongst those who had political influence.

Next Monday all the stages of the Economic Crime (transparency and enforcement) bill will be discussed and voted on in the House of Commons. Its main aim will be to ensure that those investing in any kind of asset in the UK will have to reveal their identity and not be able to hide behind shell companies whose true ownership has not been listed. Also the sources of their funds will have to be declared.

Along with this the government is drawing up a list of individuals who they intend to impose economic sanctions on such as freezing their assets, banning them from the UK etc.

My party will be supporting all these measures but we do have a number of concerns.

First of all, why the government has not already taken action against individuals who are propping up Putin’s regime and who are subject to sanctions in other countries. These include military figures such as the head of Russian land forces and the head of Russia’s Black Sea naval force which is playing an important role in the invasion in Southern Ukraine.

There are also many Russian oligarchs, banks and politicians who have not yet been included. The government has promised that they will be but in the meantime, they are free to move their assets into sympathetic Putin countries. By giving 30 days notice, the Government is allowing these billionaires space to act.

Secondly, professional firms who advise those individuals and companies on how to protect their assets, issue legal threats against journalists and others who investigate them, use their legal skills to drag out court cases when the authorities go after the ill-gotten gains while of course filling their own pockets with enormous fees, should be covered in the legislation.

Many of them know they are dealing with criminals. They are the facilitators and without them Putin’s criminal cronies could not launder the stolen money. We want to see the bill include measures to hold them responsible for their part in helping Putin.

Lastly the new laws must be enforceable. Companies House must have the resources to check the registration requirements which the new law will introduce. There is no indication that this will be the case. Equally these oligarchs must not be able to frustrate the legal process.

The National Crime Agency is already on record as saying it cannot pursue all the cases it wants because they are too expensive. By putting a limit on the amount which can be spent by the defence on court cases those being targeted for money laundering would not be able to use their deep pockets to protect their assets and frustrate justice.

The economic war against Putin’s pals of course will also give additional resources and powers to law enforcement agencies in their fight against criminal gangs in NI who use their past and present terrorist connections to finance their organisations and line their own pockets.

The new urgency in bringing forward these measures and I hope the government will take advantage to the unity across all parties in the HoCs to ensure that this bill really does deal a deadly blow to billionaire gangsters and small scale gangs.

Sammy Wilson is a DUP MP

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