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Government's Hope To House Refugees In Sanctioned Oligarch Mansions Faces Legal Delays

Government's Hope To House Refugees In Sanctioned Oligarch Mansions Faces Legal Delays

Michael Gove

3 min read

Michael Gove's plan to seize mansions in the UK owned by sanctioned Russian oligarchs and use them to temporarily house Ukrainian refugees is facing legal delays.

Gove, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC), first floated the idea of seizing properties owned by sanctioned Russian oligarchs at the end of February. He later said he was keen to "explore" the option of offering seized properties as accommodation to Ukrainians who have fled to the UK since Vladimir Putin's invasion.

When Gove first proposed idea in a meeting of Cabinet earlier this month, it received a mixed response from colleagues, PoliticsHome understands. While Prime Minister Boris Johnson expressed his enthusiasm for the idea, some ministers were concerned that it would be fraught with legal complications.

A senior government source said that while the "sentiment" behind Gove's proposal was the right one, they believed it would be very difficult for ministers to put into practice.

A government minister confirmed to PoliticsHome that the proposal is "being progressed but there are legal problems", adding that the issues related to property law.

But a separate senior Whitehall source insisted that Gove remained confident any legal hurdles could be overcome, and stressed that DLUHC was looking at seizing properties owned by oligarchs only for as long as they are sanctioned by the UK, not confiscating them permanently.

"We're confident it would be compliant with European Convention on Human Rights property rights," they said.

The source added that France is looking at similar measures, and that the US Bipartisan Bill recently introduced in Washington seeks to go further by confiscating property owned by oligarchs.Asked about the status of the plan on Monday morning, a Downing Steet spokesperson said it was the responsibility of DLUHC. "At the moment our focus is on on the two schemes we have up and running. That's how how we providing support to the Ukrainians," they said.

Speaking about his plan earlier this month, Gove told the BBC: "We are saying: ‘you’re sanctioned, you’re supporting Putin, this home is here, you have no right to use or profit from it – and more than that, while you are not using or profiting from it, if we can use it in order to help others, let’s do that’."

He admitted in the same interview, however, that there was "quite a high legal bar to cross".

A DLUHC spokesperson told PoliticsHome: "It is time to shut down the racket of illicit money in British property and we are sending a strong signal that the UK’s property market is not open to corrupt individuals and regimes laundering their money."

Last week four people were arrested for occupying the west London mansion owned by Russian oligarch, Oleg Deripaska. The scale of the police response was criticised, however, with London Mayor Sadiq Khan saying he was "surprised" by the sight of officers dressed in riot gear breaking into the property and such a heavy police presence at the mansion in Belgravia. 

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