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4 March 2022

The government is acting too slowly in its clampdown of Russian oligarchs

While the UK has sanctioned just 13 oligarchs, the EU has sanctioned more than 25.

By Freddie Hayward

The war in Ukraine is entering a new stage of destruction. The Russian army have intensified their bombardment of Ukrainian cities as Vladimir Putin warns he will never give up his conviction that Russians and Ukrainians are one people. Negotiators from both sides have agreed to establish humanitarian corridors to allow citizens to leave the besieged cities. Whether these fully materialise is another question. Meanwhile, more than a million refugees have escaped Ukraine, with Poland receiving the majority.

In response to Russia’s unrelenting aggression, Western nations continue to ratchet up their sanctions. The UK government has sanctioned two more oligarchs with immediate effect, freezing their assets and preventing any British citizen or company from dealing with them. Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary, is also expected to launch an “oligarch taskforce” next week to coordinate sanctions across government departments.

The two newly sanctioned oligarchs have already been targeted by the EU, as the government faces criticism for its slow clampdown on Russians linked to the Putin regime. The new sanctions bring the total number of Russian oligarchs sanctioned by the UK to 13. For comparison, the EU has sanctioned more than 25.

The government claims it takes time to build the requisite legal case to impose sanctions against individuals. But the investigation of corrupt money in the UK has also been underfunded for years. The government slashed the budget of the National Crime Agency’s International Corruption Unit this year by 13.5 per cent as part of cuts to the aid budget. The NCA is responsible for unexplained wealth orders, which force individuals to reveal how they obtained their fortunes. But the agency has only brought four successful cases since they were introduced in 2018.

Crises reveal. Just as the under staffing of the NHS was laid bare by the pandemic, years of neglecting the presence of corrupt Russian money in the UK system, let alone since Putin’s build-up of troops around Ukraine, has left the government attempting an ungainly pivot. And with each passing day, the likelihood of oligarchs squirrelling their money into safe havens rises.

[See also: The Western mind no longer understands Putin]

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