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A view of the Red Square, Saint Basil's Cathedral and the Kremlin's Spasskaya Tower in Moscow A view of the Red Square, Saint Basil's Cathedral and the Kremlin's Spasskaya Tower in Moscow  (AFP or licensors)

Britain seizing assets of 'corrupt' Russian oligarchs

The British government has warned that Russian oligarchs suspected of corruption will be forced to explain their wealth in Britain. Saturday's announcement came after several of these controversial Russian entrepreneurs were also mentioned on a U.S. government list for possible financial sanctions.

By Stefan Bos

The Times newspaper quotes Britain's security minister as saying that the government will use powers to freeze and recover property if Russian individuals cannot explain how they acquired assets of over $70,000.

Minister Ben Wallace adds: "When we get to you, we will come for you, for your assets, and we will make the environment that you live in difficult."

He says that under new orders officials could seize suspicious assets until those under investigation can adequately account for their acquisitions.

Officials estimate that around $127 billion of illegal funds are laundered through Britain every year. In 2017, British media reported on an alleged Russian-led money-laundering scheme, in which over $22 billion passed through Moldova using Russian shell companies and fictitious loans from offshore firms based in Britain.

More troubles ahead

These aren't the only difficulties faces by Russian oligarchs, many of whom have large villas and other properties in London: This week the United States released an extensive list of prominent Russian business and political figures to punish Russia for alleged election meddling.

The U.S. Treasury report lists every senior member of the political administration at the Kremlin and every Russian oligarch with a net worth of $1 billion or more.

British-American investor Bill Browder believes that these developments have added to fear among Russian oligarchs implicated in financial wrongdoing. "Now there is a list of 96 Russian oligarchs and I can promise that when things get worse with Russia which they will get, there will be calls from Congress to sanction people on this list," he notes.

"And I can also guarantee you that anybody that is on this list right now is in a state of absolute fear about what it is going to mean going forward for their businesses in the future," Browder says.

His company was at one time the largest foreign portfolio investor in Russia, but Browder claimes he was refused entry to Russia after exposing corruption. Lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who had represented Browder and conducted an investigation into massive tax fraud, died in a Russian prison in 2009.

Russian oligarchs emerged during the wild last years of the Soviet Union. The term oligarch derives from Greek, and translates approximately as "rule by the few".

Listen to Stefan Bos' report
03 February 2018, 17:27