Legislators in the UK are pushing for a change in the law that would allow authorities to seize assets owned by dictators and individuals convicted of human rights abuses.
In a bid to put an end to Britain being used as a safe haven for foreign kleptocrats and despots, a cross-party group of lawmakers led by Conservative MP Dominic Raab wants to add an amendment to the Criminal Finances Bill that would give judges the power to confiscate money and assets held in the UK by human rights abusers.
Named after the late Russian whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky, who was allegedly tortured and killed in a Moscow prison after uncovering a $230 million fraud committed by government tax officials, the amendment would enable officials and NGOs to apply for an order to freeze the UK assets of those found guilty of abuses.
The Magnitsky Amendment would target individuals who have persecuted opposition politicians, human rights activists, whistleblowers and journalists, regardless of which country they committed their offences in. If passed in to law, the amendment could help the UK – and particularly London – shake off a well-deserved reputation as a safe destination for the ill-gotten gains of corrupt officials and leaders.
Raab, the MP for Esher & Walton who tabled the amendment, commented: “People with blood on their hands for the worst human rights abuses should not be able to funnel their dirty money in the UK. This change in the law will protect Britain from becoming a safe place for despots and dictators to hide their money.”
Enjoying support from the Conservatives, Labour, the Green Party and the Liberal Democrats, the amendment has a strong chance of making it onto the statute books, having so far secured the backing of at least 27 MPs.
Campaigners inducing Bill Browder, who heads up the Global Magnitsky Justice Campaign, have welcomed the proposed amendment. Browder, the fund manager who employed Magnitsky at the time of his death, said he would apply to use the new powers to seize assets owned by those implicated in the whistleblower’s suspected murder if the amendment becomes law.
Appearing before an influential committee of MPs last month, Browder said London is seen as the money laundering capital of the world, and is regularly used by Russian “bad guys” as a safe haven for dirty money. The US businessman told the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee that British prosecutors often avoid taking action against wealthy Russian oligarchs suspected of hiding their illicit wealth in the UK through fear of failing to secure a conviction.
The UK National Crime Agency – which is often referred to as Britain’s equivalent of the FBI – last year warned that billions of dollars are laundered through the UK’s financial system every year. According to Transparency International, barely any of this money is identified or seized.