Fighting Corruption and Money Laundering
Extremely Hard but not Impossible
Oliver Bulloiugh / The Guardian
Amsterdam, March 6th –Why was Britain the only country that declined to act on the information Browder provided? His conclusion was that too many influential people – lawyers, bankers, accountants, property developers – were dependent on dirty Russian money for their livelihoods. “If that money was stopped,” he said in 2016, “certain people would find themselves without businesses, and I think those people have political weight in this country.”
Many British institutions have indeed accepted donations from wealthy Russian businesspeople: Sadiq Khan’s City Hall from Elena Baturina, whose husband was mayor of Moscow; the Conservative party from Lubov Chernukhin, whose husband was one of Putin’s ministers, and who paid £160,000 to play tennis with Boris Johnson and David Cameron in 2014.
But it is not venal politicians who are stopping British police conducting investigations into the laundering of Russian money in the UK. According to Tristram Hicks, who was the detective superintendent in charge of economic crime at the Met until 2009, and who now acts as a freelance consultant to police forces around the world, the problem is far more serious than that.
In order to prosecute a foreign crook in Britain, you need to prove their money originated in a crime of some kind, and that requires evidence from overseas. Essentially, if you want to prosecute a Kremlin insider, you need evidence from the Kremlin, which naturally it will not provide, and that stops investigations from progressing. And this is not just a British problem. After France, Switzerland and the Netherlands received information from Browder that some of the stolen $230m had been spent in their countries, they froze the assets in question – but their criminal investigations are yet to secure convictions. Only US prosecutors have managed a result, and even that was just an out-of-court settlement, without an admission of guilt by the defendant. “You cannot underestimate the technical hurdle that is bringing the evidence to a British standard for a British court,” Hicks said.
That isn’t the only obstacle to investigating money laundering. Given that all wealthy Russians have political connections – otherwise, they wouldn’t be wealthy – if the UK does gain cooperation from Russian investigators in a prosecution, the defendant will invariably claim, often with good reason, that he is being politically persecuted, which allows his lawyers to discount the evidence being used against him.
Oliver Boullough is an extraordinary investigating journalist