Richard Kerbaj, Tim Shipman, The Sunday Times, 03.06.2018
The National Crime Agency is scaling up its inquiry into Russians linked to Putin — and may freeze their assets
Russian oligarchs and multimillionaires are among 130 people who face having their assets frozen in a crackdown by British authorities on dirty money.
“Corrupt elites and their illicit wealth” are being investigated by the National Crime Agency (NCA) under new powers known as unexplained wealth orders (UWO).
Introduced in January, the orders force those suspected of serious crime to explain the origin of their assets, including properties worth more than £50,000.
NCA officials are understood to have scaled up investigations into businessmen linked to Vladimir Putin’s regime after the attempted murder of a Russian former spy in Salisbury.
Britain’s intelligence community blamed Russia for the nerve agent attack on Sergei Skripal, his daughter Yulia and a police officer in March.
Donald Toon, the NCA’s director of economic and cyber-crime, said his team was examining “between 120 and 140” are being considered for unexplained wealth order applications.
“Our focus is on tackling corrupt elites and their illicit wealth,” he said. “We do not target on the basis of nationality.”
However, a Whitehall source familiar with the investigations said “a very significant portion of them are Russian or Russian-linked”.
“The attack in Salisbury has accelerated our work around illicit finance against corrupt elites . . . so by definition it increased the amount of work we’ve been doing against corrupt Russians or politically exposed Russians.”
The UK action follows a list of Russian oligarchs and companies sanctioned by the US Treasury in April because of alleged corruption and links to the Putin regime. The effect was that no American company could work with them.
Among those affected was the aluminium tycoon Oleg Deripaska, who is worth more than £2.6bn and whose company, En+ Group, is listed on the London Stock Exchange. He was accused of illegal wiretapping, extortion, racketeering, money laundering, and threats against business rivals.
However, Toon insisted that the American sanctions list was not “driving our activity” at the NCA.
British intelligence officials are also reviewing the tier 1 investor visas of wealthy Russians in the UK to determine whether they were obtained “truthfully”. The move followed the delayed renewal of Roman Abramovich’s investor visa. The Chelsea football club owner has now reportedly “withdrawn” his visa application.
A tier 1 investor visa allows the recipient to stay in Britain for three years and four months in exchange for a £2m investment in the UK.
Officials at Downing Street and the Home Office have been told not to speak about the crackdown, as legal action is feared by prominent Russians based in Britain. “We’ve been told to keep our mouths shut or be sued,” one said.
A source at No 10 added: “No one is off the table. Nothing will be advertised but you will see a step change in unexplained wealth orders.”
On photo: Roman Abramovich with Polina Deripaska, wife of tycoon Oleg, in Moscow