Visa status of 700 wealthy oligarchs to be reviewed following nerve agent attack

(Friday, 11th May 2018)

The Express online (express.co.uk) reports that up to 700 wealthy Russians living in Britain could be forced out of the country.

Before Amber Rudd’s resignation as Home Secretary at the end of April, she announced that Home Office officials are planning to launch investigations as to how they were allowed to settle in the UK.

Following the diplomatic row caused by the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury in March, relations between the UK and Russia have been at one of the lowest points since the end of the Cold War. As a result, the presence and activities of wealthy oligarchs in the UK, and London in particular, has come under scrutiny. Concerns about sources of their wealth have been around for many years, but following the Salisbury incident, many more politicians have gone on record to express these concerns even more vocally than before.

Estimates reveal that prominent Russians with ties to the Putin government own British properties worth nearly £1.1 billion, mostly in and around London. The true figure may well be much more because investors often take advantage of offshore centres and the secrecy they provide.

At the end of January this year, new legislation or Unexplained Wealth Orders (UWOs) came in to force. They are designed as a new investigative power to help law enforcement take action against corrupt assets. Up until now, it has been particularly difficult to act where there is no realistic prospect of co-operation or conviction in the country of origin, but there are sufficient grounds for suspicion that an asset has been acquired with the proceeds of corruption. As the whole focus of wealthy criminals has been to hide or launder their assets, obtaining enough proof to successfully prosecute a case for civil recovery is tremendously difficult.

Vince Cable, leader of the Liberal Democrats, said “The prime minister must demand these oligarchs, who surely must be considered politically exposed persons, explain in writing, with detailed documentation, just how they obtained their fortunes. If the answers are not forthcoming or are unsatisfactory, then authorities must seize their assets as a matter of urgency”.

Speaking in the House of Commons, he gave the example of Igor Shuvalov, the former Russian deputy prime minister, who owns flats in London, bought in 2014 for £11.4m by a company that Russian anti-corruption campaigners claim he owns. An official declaration at the time of purchase said Shuvalov’s salary amounted to £112,000.

John McDonnell, the Labour shadow chancellor, said it was important to “hit the Russian elite in the wallet” and said the Labour party “will call time on global elites like the Russian oligarchs, who are essentially fleecing the Russian people and using our financial sector to hide their ill-gotten gains”.

The government is expected to push forward so-called Magnitsky anti-corruption measures – named after the late whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky and the subsequent Magnitsky Act, introduced in the US in 2012. It is expected that the government will introduce new powers that could ban potentially corrupt figures from entering the UK.

Russians have typically applied for a Tier 1 (Investor) visa, which is awarded to those investing £2m or more in the UK. The government tightened rules on the Tier 1 scheme in 2015 when it introduced enhanced checks on how those applying.

Confirming the review, Ms Rudd stated: “I’ve asked to look at a cohort of previous ones, to see if there’s a decision that needs to be taken”. She said that applications had fallen 86% since the reform of the visa rules and said she had asked officials to look at awards of Tier 1 visas made “over the last few years”.

From 6 April 2018, the Tier 1 (General) category has been closed to all settlement applications.

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