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Boris Johnson Urged To Act In "Days Not Months" On Oligarch Money in London

Boris Johnson Urged To Act In 'Days Not Months' On Oligarch Money in London
4 min read

Labour has demanded that Boris Johnson enforces new laws to prevent money laundering by Vladimir Putin’s cronies in London within "days not months" as MPs gather to debate the Economic Crime Bill in Parliament today.

Money in the UK belonging to the Russian President’s allies will be debated and voted on this afternoon as part of fast-track moves by Boris Johnson to target financial crime. 

But Labour MPs are not convinced the government’s plans are moving quickly enough as the shelling of Ukrainians by Putin’s forces continues. They are angry the bill has been in existence for two years, but is only being brought forward to Parliament for a vote today.

Jonathan Reynolds, shadow secretary of state for business, said the government's proposals for a register of overseas entities should require details of who is the beneficial owner of a property within 28 days of the register being introduced. The government is proposing to give people six months to register details, down from an original 18 months proposed last week.

“We need action in days not months to tighten the net on Putin’s cronies and ensure sanctions can happen,” Reynolds told PoliticsHome. 

“The fact we are rushing through an emergency bill when the Government have been sat on this legislation since 2018 is deeply regrettable and has left the UK unable to take the action the EU and US have done.”

He said "dirty" Russian money needed to be "driven out into the light" by the bill. 

The new register will require anonymous foreign owners of UK property to reveal their real identities to ensure criminals cannot hide behind secretive chains of shell companies.

Johnson said on Friday that the Bill is key to ramping up the pressure on “criminal elites trying to launder money on UK soil”.

As well as Labour pushing for a 28 day deadline for registering ownership, the party would also like to see much stricter identification checks on those submitting the information. Senior Tory and former Brexit Secretary David Davis has also proposed an amendment that would involve a far speedier clamp down on alleged illicit Russian money in the UK.

Davis suggests British authorities should have the power to seize assets like “businesses, homes, cars, yachts, jets and even football clubs” before a formal sanction has been applied. He believed this would stop people moving assets out of the country while they’re being investigated.

This amendment is backed by a cross-party group of MPs and if passed, it would be one of the toughest measures taken against Russia so far. 

On Friday ministers agreed to make some changes to the bill ahead of it being debated today, including allowing the UK to impose sanctions on people who have already been targeted by the US or EU.

Labour is due to vote for the bill, but is hopeful their amendment of a 28-day deadline is selected by Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle. They said the public should know that the deadline for registration will only kick in after Royal Ascent for the bill is given, so there could still be months in which people could move their assets out of the country. 

“Labour welcomes the Government’s concessions on some of our amendments but enforcement time remains a key sticking point – Labour are clear we need swift action to drive dirty Russian money into the light and out of the UK," Reynolds continued. 

The government has said that the vast majority of the beneficial owners of entities holding properties on the new register will be entirely law-abiding companies and individuals.

They believe a six  month transition period "strikes a balance" in allowing for the free enjoyment of property and maintaining the UK’s reputation as a stable investment environment whilst ensuring property owners register their beneficial owners.

A further amendment proposed by government will also increase criminal penalties for non-compliance from fines of up to £500 per day to up to £2,500 per day.

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