No questions asked

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Molly Pollock looks at Russian influence reaching to the heart of government, political choices influenced and the role of the City of London in hiding Russian (and others) ill-gotten wealth.

“British social and political institutions remain open to hidden influences from Russian and post-Soviet elites. Such weaknesses are chronic and institutional – they are not just about a small number of examples of wrongdoing.”

In a previous article Kleptocracy in the UK I wrote about the Chatham House Research Paper The UK’s kleptocracy problem: How servicing post-Soviet elites weakens the rule of law The above quote is from that Research Paper.

Report into Russian inference in UK politics

In the July 21st 2020 press conference that made public the findings of the long-awaited Russia reoport, a damning report exposing government inaction and lack of investigation into Russian interference, Stewart Hosie SNP MP started by saying: ‘The UK is one of Russia’s top Western intelligence targets. We know that Russia targets the UK, and not just to steal secrets or research, but it suits Russia if there is disunity in the West. It weaponises information.’

‘Who is protecting the British public from interference in our democratic process?’ asked Kevin Jones MP, at the press conference. Answer: ‘In a nutshell, no-one is.’

No-one in government wanted to know whether there had been Russian interference in the EU referendum or not.

This lack of probing interference has left the UK vulnerable because the scale and scope of any such interference remains unknown.

‘There are a lot of Russians with very close links to Putin who are now very well intergrated into both UK business, political and social scenes,’ said Kevin Jones MP. ‘Yet few if any questions have been asked about the provenance of considerable wealth. This open door approach has provided an ideal mechanism by which illicit finance could be recycled through the London laundromat.’

‘It is not just the oligarchs either. The arrival of Russian money has resulted in a growth industry of enablers – lawyers, accountants, estate agents – have all played a role, wittingly or unwittingly, and formed a buffer of Westerners who are de facto agents of the Russian state.’

Stewart Hosie MP said: ‘Russia under Putin is an established threat fundamentally unwilling to adhere to international law…but in our opinion the UK government took its eye off the ball because of its focus on counter-terrorism and the government had badly underestimated the response required to the Russian threat and is still playing catch-up.’

Kevin Jones said: ‘The security and defence of our people should be the first role of government and the government has clearly let us down… There was clear evidence not only from the Scottish referendum but also from the Democratic Committee leak in the United States, and so serious questions need to be asked why Ministers didn’t then see that they should at least look at the level of Russian interference in those elections.’

But no-one apparently wanted to take responsibility for such an investigation. Putin’s allies spent billions of pounds in London with no questions asked.

The press conference on the Russia report findings is worth watching. Prepare to pick your chin up off the floor.

Money, money money…It’s a rich man’s world

Money, large amounts of it, brings contacts with others who have large amounts of money. Contacts bring influence. Influence can damage our political system and democracy by exposing it to possible interference from those who retain allegiance to kleptocratic regimes. Damaging democracy in the UK by interference in the 2016 EU referendum (to which which Russian sources were said to have contributed significant funds) which brought about Brexit, could affect the stability or sway of the EU and its ability to retain its thriving economy and be a world player, particularly if allied to a potentially destabilising situation on the edge of Europe.

Such a situation would see the EU having to cope with a reduction in its economy because of sanctions on all things Russian, and at the same time having to find the wherewithall to deal with large numbers of refugees (one million at present) into EU countries and the strains that will put on economies. Weakening the EU is in Putin’s interest.

No such thing as a free lunch

A reminder again of the introduction to the Chatham House Paper:
“Amid legal uncertainty as Soviet state institutions unravelled in the 1990s, opportunities arose for the elites of the successor states to profit individually from the transfer of Soviet-era assets. The ensuing wealth transfers have provided much business for British professional services firms. But the provision of these services to post-Soviet kleptocrats and their associates has undermined the integrity of important UK institutions and weakened the rule of law.”

Fourteen ministers in Boris Johnson’s government and two MPs on the Intelligence and Security committee received donations from individuals and companies linked to Russia and the Kremlin. Why? What did these donors expect in return? There is much truth in the saying that there is no such thing as a free lunch, but no questions were asked.

The Chatham House Paper states that the 2020 report of the UK parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee stated that:
“Several members of the Russian elite who are closely linked to Putin are identified as being involved with charitable and/or political organisations in the UK, having donated to political parties, with a public profile which positions them to assist Russian influence operations. It is notable that a number of Members of the House of Lords have business interests linked to Russia, or work directly for major Russian companies linked to the Russian state.”

Unlike the House of Commons, there is no register of interests in the House of Lords so no donations or payments need be declared. Such lack of transparency needs changed.

The rule of thieves

The Chatham House Paper also describes kleptocracy as the rule of thieves, a situation which it says has become the new normal in the UK. So how do very substantial sums of money weave their way from Russia and some other countries to London and then on to tax havens such as the Cayman Islands, Guernsey and Bermuda.

This video from Led by Donkeys explains the process.