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As France and Germany Seize Yachts, UK Accused of Coddling Russian Oligarchs

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“We hope that the government will support our amendments which seek to strengthen our ability to hit Russian oligarchs as quickly and effectively as possible,” said one Labour Party lawmaker.

After authorities in France and Germany seized a pair of yachts owned by super-wealthy Russians on Wednesday, pressure is mounting on United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson to follow suit by confiscating the assets of oligarchs linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

 “It shouldn’t have taken a war to force the British government to act on what had become an international money racket.”

French authorities reportedly seized a superyacht belonging to Igor Sechin—former deputy prime minister of Russia who has been CEO of the state-owned oil company Rosneft since 2012—in the shipyards of La Ciotat.

According to French officials, the 280-foot “Amore Velo” had arrived at the Mediterranean port on January 3 and was slated to remain there until April 1 while undergoing repairs. However, customs officers seized the yacht after they noticed it was “taking steps to sail off urgently” in violation of the European Union’s new sanctions on Russian oligarchs.

In a separate incident on Wednesday, German authorities reportedly seized “Dilbar,” a superyacht owned by Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov. The 512-foot vessel, valued at roughly $600 million, was taken in Hamburg’s shipyards, where it was being worked on.

Sechin and Usmanov were both included in a list, published Monday, of 26 Russian oligarchs who would be subject to E.U. sanctions imposed in response to Moscow’s deadly assault on Ukraine. The document refers to Sechin as one of Putin’s “most trusted and closest advisors, as well as his personal friend,” while Usmanov is described as a “pro-Kremlin oligarch with particularly close ties” to Putin.

The confiscation by France and Germany of some of Sechin and Usmanov’s most prized assets has led critics to demand more far-reaching action from the U.K., which left the E.U. in 2020.

Last week, Johnson, a right-wing Tory, announced that the U.K. would implement “the largest and most severe package of economic sanctions that Russia has ever seen.”

“Oligarchs in London,” said Johnson, “will have nowhere to hide.”

Britain has hit nine wealthy Russians with sanctions since Putin launched his full-scale invasion of Ukraine last week, but “Johnson has been accused by opposition politicians and some of his own lawmakers of failing to take more speedy action,” Reuters reported Thursday.

When Damian Hinds, a Tory serving as the U.K.’s national security minister, was asked Thursday if the Cabinet was too “scared” to target Russian elites due to the “legal implications,” Hinds said, “No.”

An unnamed government source told the PA news agency, however, that it could take “weeks and months” to build legally sound cases against some Russian oligarchs. 

According to The Independent, “Johnson is coming under pressure to tighten the net on illicit Russian finance in ‘weeks, not years,’ as officials confirmed that they are aware of wealthy oligarchs moving cash out of the U.K. in advance of expected sanctions.”

London Mayor Sadiq Khan, a member of the Labour Party, urged the government last week to seize assets owned by Putin’s allies, who use London as a “safe harbor… to park their cash.”

Since then, more elected officials, including conservatives, have echoed Khan’s call.

Tom Tugendhat, the Tory chair of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, said Thursday that “we should be looking immediately to seize those assets linked to those who are profiting from Putin’s war machine, holding it in trust, and returning it to the Russian people as soon as possible.”

In a Washington Post opinion piece published Tuesday, British journalist Hannah Fearn wrote that “it shouldn’t have taken a war to force the British government to act on what had become an international money racket.”

According to the Post, “Russian money is so ubiquitous, so notorious in Britain’s capital city that the global financial hub was long ago nicknamed “‘Londongrad.'”

While mega-rich tax dodgers from around the globe have dumped billions into London’s real estate market—inflating property values and exacerbating an affordable housing crisis—anti-corruption researchers have called the city a “laundromat” for Russia’s dirty money, in particular.

As The Independent reported:

Labour has tabled amendments to the government’s Economic Crimes Bill to require the true ownership of properties to be registered within 28 days rather than 18 months.

Sir Keir Starmer—who has offered Labour’s help to rush the long-awaited legislation through the Commons in a single day on Monday—told the prime minister that the proposed delay would give cronies of Vladimir Putin plenty of time to “quietly launder their money… into another safe haven.”

In a recent letter to Kwasi Kwarteng, a Tory serving as the U.K.’s business secretary, Labour Party parliamentarian Jonathan Reynolds wrote: “In the spirit of ending malign influence in our economy we hope that the government will support our amendments which seek to strengthen our ability to hit Russian oligarchs as quickly and effectively as possible.”

“Much more must be done to stop the movement to oligarchy not just in Russia, but all over the world.”

According to the prime minister’s official spokesperson, “We are not being held back from introducing sanctions.” But, he said, “we do have laws that we need to abide by” when it comes to implementing economic restrictions.

“When it comes to individuals it is the case that we need to do the preparatory work, the requisite work, to make sure it is legally sound before introduction,” said the spokesperson, who added that “if there are ways to further speed it up then we will.”

Meanwhile, in the U.S., members of Congress cheered Tuesday night when President Joe Biden said during his State of the Union address that “we’re joining with European allies to find and seize [Russian oligarchs’] yachts, their luxury apartments, their private jets. We’re coming for your ill-begotten gains.”

Several Russian elites have reportedly moved their yachts to the Maldives, which lacks an extradition treaty with the U.S., in anticipation of a possible crackdown.

Some progressives have called for confiscating all luxury vessels owned by billionaires, not just those close to Putin, while others have demanded urgent action to combat worsening inequality all over the globe.

“None of these oligarchs should be allowed to park their yachts, fly their jets, sleep in their mansions, or stash their cash offshore during the war in Ukraine,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said Tuesday. “But much more must be done to stop the movement to oligarchy not just in Russia, but all over the world.”

Originally published on Common Dreams by KENNY STANCIL and republished under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0).

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