Andrew Mitchell: Britain has been infiltrated by Russian criminals, bandits and Mafiosi. We must respond with action
What happened in Salisbury was a calculated act of terror. We must now implement the full Magnitsky powers to ban visas for human rights violators and to make the sanctions public, writes Andrew Mitchell
The Prime Minister’s response this week to the outrageous attack in Salisbury is proportionate and right.
The next phase should involve a full disclosure to the international community about the use of a weapons grade nerve agent, Novichok, on British soil. Three people are in intensive care, 18 citizens have been treated by the medical profession and up to 500 people, who had been exposed to this chemical weapon, have sought and received advice.
This was a coldly calculated act of terror – most likely State sponsored – at the heart of Britain. Such action requires a firm response – not just from us in Britain, but from the entire international community. Failure to achieve this will allow the Russian leadership to conclude that they can continue to kill their perceived enemies not just in Britain but around the world. Britain on its own cannot achieve what is required. Acting through the United Nations with our many allies and friends, who are as potentially threatened as we are, we can achieve the necessary deterrent to ensure that the price for such action in the future is prohibitive. We remember the murder of Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006.
It has been clear for some time that Britain has been heavily infiltrated at many levels by Russia. I am not talking about espionage, although that is clearly relevant. Many law-abiding Russians as well as villains see Britain as a safe haven for their money. Our rule of law encourages them to see London as a fair place to resolve their commercial disputes and their divorces. But this very openness and attraction has meant that the UK attracts not only welcome law-abiding Russians but Russian criminals, bandits and Mafiosi who are using our country for nefarious purposes.
So, what should our response now be? We know that the UK is the number one destination for Russian officials and their oligarch trustees who long for the safety and prestige of British banks, property and shares. Where appropriate we should freeze those assets as a top priority.
Fortunately, there is already a legal framework set up to achieve this, called the Magnitsky Act. This is named after Sergei Magnitsky, the Russian tax and accountancy expert who discovered the collusion of corrupt police and tax officials in Russia. When Mr Magnitsky refused to change his testimony he was detained, denied necessary surgery and finally died in pre-trial detention after he was beaten with rubber batons, which were used to “pacify” him when he screamed in agony. Bill Browder, whose Lawyer Mr Magnitsky was, has bravely fought for Justice ever since.
The Magnitsky Act was first conceived by the US Congress in 2012. It seizes assets and bans visas for Russian human rights violators. We know it works. Putin made it his top priority to secure its repeal. His emissaries went in June 2016 to the Trump Tower to implore the Trump family to repeal the Magnitsky Act if Donald Trump was elected.
We have the beginning of the Magnitsky legal framework here in the UK. In April 2017 I and others, led by Dominic Raab MP, persuaded Parliament to pass the so called Magnitsky Amendment to the Criminal Finances Bill which allows the Government to go to court to freeze the assets of human rights violators. But importantly the current law did not encourage the Government to ban visas for human rights violators and to make the sanctions public.
Long before the atrocity in Salisbury a cross Party group of MPs has been working to bring British legislation into line with that passed in America, Canada and three European countries. Once we had identified the right vehicle (the Sanctions and Anti Money Laundering Bill) I set out in the House of Commons on 25 January 2018 what I believe Parliament requires from the Government in respect of the full Magnitsky law.
Clearly interest and support has risen immensely as a result of chemical weapons being used in Salisbury. Senior MPs, including Richard Benyon (Conservative) & Helen Goodman (Labour), have been pressing the case at the Committee Stage of this Bill.
The announcement by the Prime Minister that the Government will now itself introduce a Magnitsky Amendment is most welcome. But Parliament has noticed that, in Committee, the Government has been resisting independent review, outside the judicial process, being included in the Bill. We need this to ensure scrutiny and oversight of the exercise of these extensive powers and that they are actually used. So far, they have not been.
In its present form the Bill removes without justification the independent review mechanism that previously existed in respect of terrorism-related sanctions and provides no replacement mechanism.
The full Magnitsky powers which we are urging the Government to now enshrine in law will allow us to ban entry to the UK of human rights violators and provide a mechanism for the Government to show that they are implementing the sanctions regime. I am confident that the Government will now think seriously about agreeing to this.
Andrew Mitchell is Conservative MP for Sutton Coldfield