By Ahmet Gurhan Kartal
A U.K. parliamentary committee has said the British government is risking the country’s national security by allowing “kleptocrats and human rights abusers to use the City of London to launder their ill-gotten funds to circumvent sanctions.”
The report -- titled Moscow's Gold: Russian Corruption in the U.K. -- by the cross-party Foreign Affairs Committee criticized the government for its approach to tackling international money laundering.
It suggested that the lax policies are putting money “directly into the hands of regimes that would harm the U.K., its interests and its allies.”
It added that the government has failed to follow “robust rhetoric” by Prime Minister Theresa May following the March 4 nerve agent attack that seriously injured ex- Russian spy Sergei Skripal, his daughter Yulia Skripal and police officer Nick Bailey.
In a parliamentary statement following the Salisbury incident, May vowed to enact new laws to detain individuals suspected of “hostile state activity,” hinting a series of actions against Russian businessmen who are close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
She said her government will also introduce checks on private aircraft and freeze Russian assets that are suspected to be linked with hostile activities targeting British citizens.
“Despite the strong rhetoric, President [Vladimir] Putin and his allies have been able to continue ‘business as usual’ by hiding and laundering their corrupt assets in London,” the report said.
“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 U.K. foreign policy.”
“We can no longer allow ‘business as usual’. The U.K. must be clear that the corruption stemming from the Kremlin is no longer welcome in our markets and we will act,” MP Tom Tugendhat, the committee chair said.
He said: “The scale of damage that this ‘dirty money’ can do to U.K. foreign policy interests dwarfs the benefit of Russian transactions in the City. There is no excuse for the U.K. to turn a blind eye as President Putin’s kleptocrats and human rights abusers use money laundered through London to corrupt our friends, weaken our alliances, and erode faith in our institutions.”
The report said “there is a direct relationship between the oligarchs’ wealth and the ability of President Putin to execute his aggressive foreign policy and domestic agenda,” adding that “the contemporary oligarchs owe their wealth to the President and act, in exchange, as a source of private finance for the Kremlin.”
Reacting on the report, the Kremlin accused Britain of unprecedented "anti-Russian mania" and warned that such attitude could backfire and scare off foreign investors.
“Investors from any country can face a situation after such actions of the U.K. where their investments will be called ‘dirty money’,” Presidential spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said.
"However, we along with you have started registering signs of unfriendly competition, unfair and unlawful competition in recent years contrary to all norms and rules of the World Trade Organization. Such instances do harm to interests of our companies," he said.
Also speaking about the visa expiry of Russian businessman and the owner of Chelsea Football Club Roman Abramovich, Peskov said he did not have any information but “I have just talked about the fact that our business faces various manifestation of unfair and unfriendly treatment".
Abramovich’s investor visa has expired last month and his application for a renewal from British Home Office is still pending, according to local reports.
British government, for its part, said they would not " discuss individual cases,” and visa applications from Russia are handled "rigorously and properly".
The Anglo-Russian relations have hit the lowest point since the alleged Salisbury attack on Skripals in March, which the U.K. says a military grade nerve agent produced by Russia was used.
The U.K. expelled 23 Russian diplomats over the incident and Russia responded by expelling the same number of British diplomats.
Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, were admitted to a hospital after being found unconscious on March 4 in Salisbury. They both have been discharged from hospital, British health authorities said.
The incident has drawn comparisons to the 2006 death of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko after drinking radioactive tea. Former KGB bodyguards identified as suspects in the murder denied any involvement.
* Elena Teslova in Moscow contributed to this report