London, May 22 (IANS) British lawmakers have said ‘dirty’ Russian money is making its way to London as “business continues as usual for wealthy Russians who hide and launder corrupt assets through London”.
After the poisoning of a former Russian spy, Sergei Skripal, on English soil, the British government expelled 23 Russian diplomats.
Its foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, compared the upcoming World Cup tournament in Russia to the Nazi Olympics in 1936. And Prime Minister Theresa May promised there would be no place for “serious criminals and corrupt elites”.
Yet, despite the heated declarations, business continues as usual for wealthy Russians who hide and launder corrupt assets through London, a parliamentary committee said on Monday in a scathing assessment that warned of “inaction or lethargy” over dirty money from Moscow, The New York Times reported.
The report, from the influential House of Commons foreign affairs committee, said there was no excuse for Britain “to turn a blind eye” while associates and allies of Russian President, Vladimir Putin, “use money laundered through London to corrupt our friends, weaken our alliances and erode faith in our institutions”.
Britain’s financial and legal firms have been big beneficiaries of Russian capital flight, and London, less than four hours flying time from Moscow, is a popular destination for the country’s oligarchs, some of whom have invested in luxury property, soccer teams and other assets.
With a deep chill in relations between Britain and Russia after the poisoning of Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, the British government has been under pressure to make life harder for allies of Putin by making sanctions and anti-money laundering rules more effective.
Yet the committee report suggests that Britain’s financial centre has so far found it impossible to resist the large sums of money that flow from Russia, even if there are troubling questions about the source of some of these assets.
“Despite the strong rhetoric, Putin and his allies have been able to continue ‘business as usual’ by hiding and laundering their corrupt assets in London,” said the report, which entitled one section of its findings “closing the ‘laundromat.'”
Though the proportion of dirty money in London was estimated to be small, relative to the size of the financial sector, the committee said, “the damage that this money can do to UK foreign policy interests, by corrupting our friends, weakening our alliances and eroding trust in our institutions is, however, potentially enormous”.