Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:59 pm on 22nd September 2022.

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Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Conservative, Thirsk and Malton 5:59 pm, 22nd September 2022

I will not detain the House for long. I very much welcome the measures and the reasons for them. As the briefing states, the current measures we have imposed through sanctions are insufficient and we need to go further. The sanctions are effective, however, as evidence given to the Treasury Committee has shown. They are putting further pressure on Putin, who is clearly now under huge pressure anyway. However, they are a dimmer switch rather than a traditional light switch, so it is important that we improve the dimmer switch’s efficacy.

I raised the case of Alisher Usmanov earlier because it is a case in point and not because I wanted a direct answer on it. These are clever people, with very large resources, and they can employ the best people to help them to try to evade sanctions. They look to do that in two principal ways. They either use associates, relatives and the rest—it is good to hear that the provisions will tighten up on family members, and I will follow with interest whether that works with Mr Usmanov—or they use very complex corporate vehicles. Again, the Government intend to legislate in that area to improve the transparency around companies. Mr Usmanov has a £600 million yacht—that is some yacht—which is currently moored in Hamburg. Even though the German authorities know that it is his, they cannot identify his direct linkage to the ownership of the yacht, so they cannot impound it, which is disappointing. The Italians have taken his villa in the Italian riviera away from him, but we cannot identify his direct connection with that yacht, so we need to tighten things up in various areas to make this easier.

I will suggest a couple of measures to the Minister and his officials, who are hopefully listening. There was a suggestion from Bill Browder—his name will be familiar to many of us in this debate—who has been a fantastic champion for tackling dirty money around the world. Clearly, following the money is so difficult because these people are very clever and use very clever advisers to hide the money. If we introduced legislation so that all UK professional advisers who had dealt with a sanctioned individual had to open their books to the authorities, that would make it much easier to track that money through very complex shell companies and the like—so we could follow the money and properly sanction people. It would also potentially deter some of our professional advisers in this country from dealing with these highly suspect characters in the first place. Hopefully, the Minister will consider that.

In terms of following the money, I am also very concerned by the push from the Treasury to make the UK an international, world-leading crypto hub. One thing we know about crypto is that it is designed not to be regulated. Although people will say that there is a log, so there is an audit trail for all the money, the regulators cannot see it and that is how it is designed. In my view, our regulators will therefore never be able to track the stuff through crypto, yet we seem to be saying that we want the UK to be a leading crypto finance centre. We should reconsider that.

Another measure is the Magnitsky Act, which the EU and the UK have, although we do not call it that. That currently only covers human rights, but the EU is adding corruption to it, so asset freezes and travel restrictions could then be used for somebody who is guilty of—or even suspected of—corruption.

The shadow Minister, Stephen Doughty, and my hon. Friend Bob Seely mentioned sequestering, confiscating and redistributing assets. That is a really interesting point. Most of us in the House absolutely believe in property rights, so taking assets off people and giving them to somebody else is pretty tricky stuff. We cannot undermine our values in attempting, rightly, to use some of that money to pay reparations to Ukraine. There is one thing that we could do much more easily. We hold about £30 billion of Russian foreign currency reserves, which is currently seized. That is protected by sovereign immunity, but we could change those rules pretty quickly. It would not be difficult for us to establish criteria around which we can set aside such measures. Clearly, Russia is guilty under international law with its illegal invasion of Ukraine. It cannot be difficult for us to say, “On that basis, the £30 billion of assets can go to help Ukraine, instead of British taxpayers having to fund the help that we are providing to Ukraine.”

Finally, the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill, which is to have a Second Reading on 13 October, is missing some measures that would have a profound effect. All the money that came out of Russia and flowed into oligarchs’ back pockets went through some major banks around the world, not least Danske Bank. Some £200 billion of laundered money went through the bank’s division in Estonia. The people who run the bank must have known, because a bank’s normal return on capital employed is approximately 20%, whereas the return on capital employed in that branch in Estonia was 426%. That must have stood out pretty clearly to the people who run those banks.

If we introduced measures in the Bill to say “If you fail to prevent money laundering, fraud or false accounting, you could be held to account not only as a corporation but as an individual,” it would have a profound effect on the people facilitating this stuff. It would allow us to clamp down on it and stop it happening. I know that that is not a matter for the Minister on duty today, but I will certainly be mentioning it on 13 October. Thank you for giving me time to speak, Madam Deputy Speaker.