Mark Hollingsworth

Why did it take so long to sanction Roman Abramovich?

(Photo: Getty)

On 28 October 2016, I received an email from a well-connected former senior MI6 officer who asked me if I had any material about properties in London owned by wealthy Russians. I was a natural person to ask because I had written a book about the Russian oligarchs and had become an expert on the ownership of expensive houses and luxury apartments in central London.

I then discovered that the discreet inquiry was on behalf of the National Security Council who were reviewing the activities and assets of the oligarchs in the UK, including Roman Abramovich. And so I was expecting legislative action soon. After all, I also knew that two years earlier a different former senior MI6 officer who had served in Moscow had privately briefed Theresa May, then Home Secretary, about the dangers of the Russian plutocrats hiding their money in London.

Then the attempted murder of the former spy Sergei Skripal by Russian intelligence operatives in Salisbury in 2018 provided the perfect opportunity to stop – or at least regulate – the flood of Russian oligarch cash into London. ‘We are going after the money’, declared Boris Johnson, then Foreign Secretary.

But nothing happened. A new law which forced offshore companies that bought property in the UK to disclose their beneficial owner was deliberately stalled in classic ‘Yes Minister’ fashion. And yet the government knew that oligarchs like Abramovich were parking their ill-gotten gains in London. A leaked 2019 Home Office memo stated: ‘Abramovich remains of interest to HMG due to his links to the Russian state and his public association with corrupt activity and practices.’

The government has finally woken up to how the oligarchs used London as a haven to hide their wealth

It was no secret that the reclusive Chelsea owner was part of president Putin’s inner circle.

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Written by
Mark Hollingsworth

Mark Hollingsworth is the author of ‘Londongrad – From Russia with Cash’. His new book, ‘Agents of Influence – How the KGB Subverted Western Democracies’, will be published by Oneworld this April.

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