Dirty money in Britain

This month, Britain’s first unexplained wealth order (UWO) survived a challenge at the High Court. The suspect it targets – Zamira Hajiyeva – is the wife of an Azerbaijani banker whose annual salary is a mere £54,000, and who was jailed for defrauding a state-owned bank out of the equivalent of tens of millions of pounds. Mrs Hajiyeva owns a house in Knightsbridge worth £11.5m, a golf club in Ascot worth £10m and a Gulfstream jet; she also spent £16m at Harrods in the decade up to 2016. On one visit alone, she blew more than £150,000 on jewellery. Hajiyeva must now explain how she amassed her wealth.

Britain poses as a leader in the fight against illicit finance and corruption, but under the Government’s “golden visa” scheme, oligarchs and dubious foreign officials who shift large sums into the country are given “honoured status as inward investors”. About 3,000 super-rich individuals were welcomed on golden visas between 2008 and 2015, bringing in some £3bn in questionable cash, Hundreds of billions of pounds” in dirty money from kleptocrats and foreign criminals is laundered through British banks each year. Most cross-border corruption cases in recent years have had a connection to Britain or its exotic island dependencies.

If the Hajiyeva case is successful, her assets will be seized. The government also plans to launch a number of other investigations. However, this misses the point. The British “Always blame the EU” Government claims that that the EU has been preventing more vigorous policing. But Spain is trying 18 Russians for money laundering and France has just prosecuted an oligarch for crimes linked to tax evasion. The British may be pursuing an obscure banker from Azerbaijan, but the overriding concern remains to retain business ties with Moscow. Hence a key reform – to subject limited partnerships (the corporate form favoured by Russian crooks) to the money-laundering checks imposed on other private-sector companies – has been abandoned by the Government. The Kremlin’s “kleptocratic cash” is flooding in and ministers are pretending not to notice.

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