Russian “bad guys” are using London to launder their dirty money with near impunity, anti-corruption campaigner Bill Browder has told British MPs.
Appearing before the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, the US businessman said the city is the money laundering capital of the world, despite the UK having robust legislation in place to tackle the crime.
Browder, CEO of hedge fund Hermitage Capital Management, said British prosecutors are often wary of pursuing Russian money launderers over concerns they will be forced to meet legal fees if their actions fail.
In his evidence to the committee, Browder – who has campaigned for justice for murdered lawyer Sergei Magnitsky been an outspoken critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin – said British law enforcement agencies are so strapped for cash that prosecutors are petrified of launching potentially career-ending actions unless they are 100% confident they have enough evidence to secure a conviction.
“If one were to make just one small change to the laws here… of eliminating the payment of costs by law enforcement agencies, that would completely change the character, or the risk/reward, of conducting investigations and you might get the same type of robust investigations that would preclude and dissuade people from using London as the money-laundering centre of the world,” he said.
Continuing, he advised the committee that Britain was uniquely placed to take action against corrupt members of the Russian elite because so many of them have bases in the capital. Many wealthy Russian oligarchs have bought up some of London’s most expensive property over the past few decades.
“[T]his money is being used not only for these people or their families to live well here; this money today is being used to impact on Western public opinion in the interests of maintaining Putin’s regime,” Browder said. “In that respect, the United Kingdom applying its legislation consistently would mean that it was doing more than it is doing as of today.”
Last year, the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) warned that billions of US dollars were still being laundered through UK banks and their subsidiaries by organised criminal groups and terrorists, despite strong anti-money laundering laws being in place in Britain.
Shortly after the NCA’s warning, one of its senior directors told the Times that foreign criminals were inflating the UK property market by laundering billions of pounds through expensive properties, many of which were in London. Donald Toon, Director of Economic Crime at the NCA, said he was alarmed at the growing number of upmarket properties purchased through complex offshore corporations, which are often used by criminals for laundering money.