UK ‘rolls out the carpet for kleptocrats’


Britain has allowed its capital to become a playground for the world’s oligarchs, notes analyst Ben Judah. A new Magnitsky Act is needed to stem the corruption, but British law is on the side of the kleptocrats, he writes for The New York Times:

All an autocrat on the run has to do is create a shell company to hide his identity and the source of his illicit wealth, and then use this instrument to purchase property incognito. Britain’s best-paid brokers and lawyers are here to help — and will ask no awkward questions about the provenance of their clients’ cash. …Such anonymous companies now own nearly 40,000 London properties. Some of these purchases may be entirely legitimate and innocent, but these tools of secrecy are well known to be favored by money launderers: The anticorruption organization Transparency International has found that this technique has been used for three-quarters of properties whose owners have been investigated for corruption in Britain.

“In Parliament, a growing cross-party band of members is seeking to amend the Criminal Finances Bill, now making its way through the legislative process,” Judah notes. “This amendment, named after the Russian lawyer and corruption whistle-blower Sergei L. Magnitsky (right), who died in prison in suspicious circumstances, would allow officials and organizations like Global Witness to apply for a court order to freeze the assets of human rights violators. When presented with evidence and a clear public-interest case, government ministers would be legally bound to act.”

Malaysia’s 1MDB case has become a signature campaign in the global effort to crack down on kleptocracy and the relative ease with which the super-rich move their money beyond the oversight of government and monetary authorities, an analyst notes.

Recent attacks on Ukraine’s National Anti-Corruption Bureau “should be stopped, and the political persecution of anti-corruption activists should carry consequences, even to the point of sanctions on representatives of the ruling elite, which is mired in kleptocracy,” argues Sergii Leshchenko, a Ukrainian journalist and a former Reagan-Fascell fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy. “If this fails to happen, we could see a repeat of the Moldova scenario in Ukraine, the resurgence of pro-Russian forces and the final blow to the hopes of the millions who, three years ago, made their belief in democratic values public,” he warns.

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