British MPs yesterday passed a bill that would allow UK authorities to seize the assets of foreign officials suspected of human rights abuses.
Inspired by the memory of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky – who died in a Moscow jail after uncovering a major tax fraud committed by Russian officials – the Criminal Finances Bill allows police to target the “unexplained wealth” of dictators and rights abusers, even if the offences they are accused of committing took place overseas.
A group of cross-party MPs came together last year to table an amendment to the bill that would give judges the power to confiscate assets and money held in the UK by corrupt foreign officials.
The bill must now make its way through the House of Lords before becoming law later this year. If it succeeds, Britain will be the third country to pass legislation inspired by Magnitsky, after Estonia and the US approved similar laws.
Magnitsky died in police custody after he exposed an alleged $230 million (€218 million) fraud said to have been perpetrated by Russian government officials and organised criminals. His supporters claim he was beaten to death, while the Russian government maintains he passed away after suffering complications arising from untreated pancreatitis.
It is thought those behind the fraud Magnitsky exposed sent some €35 million to the UK, where police failed to investigate the money’s source. London and the rest of the UK has long served as a safe haven for crooked officials looking to hide large sums of money obtained through corruption.
Proposing the amendment in December, Conservative MP Dominic Raab said: “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.”
Addressing the House of Commons yesterday during the bill’s third reading, Minister of State for Security Ben Wallace said: “We need to make the UK a hostile environment for those seeking to move, hide and use the proceeds of crime and corruption. In an increasingly competitive international marketplace, the UK simply cannot afford to be seen as a haven for dirty money.
“This measure would send a clear statement that the UK will not stand by and allow those who have committed gross abuse or violations around the world to launder their money here.”
William Browder, founder of Hermitage Capital Management, the company Magnitsky worked for when he was imprisoned, welcomed the third reading of the bill.
Browder, who has been a vocal campaigner against the Russian government since the death of his friend and employee, said: “The new Magnitsky sanctions legislation is going to cause perceptible fear for kleptocrats in Russia and other authoritarian regimes. They all have expensive properties in London and think they are untouchable.”