The government has hinted at passing a British version of the so-called Magnitsky Act, a US law that freezes assets and imposes travel bans on Russians suspected of corruption and human rights violations.
It comes as Theresa May outlined the government’s response to the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury.
Speaking in the House of Commons this afternoon May said: “We will table a government amendment to the Sanctions Bill to strengthen our powers to impose sanctions in response to the violation of human rights. In doing so, we will play our part in an international effort to punish those responsible for the sorts of abuses suffered by Sergei Magnitsky.”
MPs have previously pushed for an amendment to be added to the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill now going through parliament to incorporate a Magnitsky type provision.
Magnitsky was a Russian lawyer who died in custody after revealing alleged fraud by state officials. He acted as a lawyer to British businessman Bill Browder.
May added that the government will also freeze Russian State assets “wherever it has the evidence that they may be used to threaten the life or property of UK nationals or residents.”
“Led by the National Crime Agency, we will continue to bring all the capabilities of UK law enforcement to bear against serious criminals and corrupt elites. There is no place for these people – or their money – in our country”, she added.
This could include exercising use of unexplained wealth orders. The orders, which came into force this month, give agencies such as the Serious Fraud Office, Crown Prosecution Service and NCA the power to force individuals to explain to UK officials how they acquired assets.
Michael O’Kane, senior partner at UK firm Peters & Peters, which specialsies in business crime, commercial litigation and civil & criminal fraud, said agreeing to activate the Magnitsky amendments was no surprise. However, he warned that as the bill is not expected to come into force until the Brexit transitional period, there would be no immediate effect.
“It is of note that the PM did not announce efforts to increase EU sanctions against Russia, as for example happened after the shooting down of the Malaysian Airlines plane over Ukraine in July 2014. This may be because she is not confident of broad EU support,” O’Kane said.
He added that a pledge to potentially freeze Russian state assets will “send a chill down the spine of all bank compliance officers dealing with funds or assets owned by the Russian State.”