The Liberal Democrats have launched a bid to shut the “oligarch loophole” contained within the Economic Crime Bill, which is set to come before Parliament today.
The Party has tabled an amendment to the legislation which seeks to close a backdoor route for oligarchs to avoid meeting crucial anti-money laundering requirements contained within the Bill.
The Bill establishes a register of beneficial ownership for overseas entities. However the Bill as drafted gives the Government the power to grant individuals – which could include Kremlin-linked oligarchs – an exemption from its registration requirements on the broad basis of “the interests of the economic wellbeing of the United Kingdom”.
The Liberal Democrats warned that this loophole could give ‘carte blanche’ to oligarchs and their enablers to aggressively lobby the Government for exemptions – with the risk that Kremlin-linked individuals continue to operate in the shadows, with no transparency around the ownership of their assets and no disruption to their operations in this country.
The amendment tabled by Layla Moran MP has gained significant cross-party support, with prominent supporters including Labour’s Dame Margaret Hodge and Conservative MP Kevin Hollinrake.
The Party has also tabled an amendment to include what it is calling the “oligarch lobbying clause”. This would require the Government to publish all representations made to Ministers by Kremlin-linked oligarchs and their enablers, in an attempt to name and shame any entities which have been trying to water down this piece of legislation.
The report must be published and brought before Parliament within one month of the Bill being passed. This report would include all representations that have been made to Ministers regarding the Bill’s property registration provisions by any entities in the last twelve months, including the minutes of any meetings that have taken place.
Liberal Democrat Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Layla Moran MP said: “We’ve been told for weeks that Putin’s cronies would have ‘nowhere to hide’, yet contained within this Bill is the perfect opportunity for them to do just that. The immense lobbying powers of Kremlin-linked oligarchs and their enablers has been well documented. They must be rubbing their hands in glee that this legislation is soft touch and easily exploitable.
“It’s farcical that Kremlin-linked oligarchs could be exempted from declaring what property they own on the grounds of the economic wellbeing of the United Kingdom. What is actually in the interests of the economic wellbeing of the UK is the complete opposite – stopping the flow of dirty Russian money into our country once and for all.
“The Liberal Democrats call on the Government to get behind our amendment and close this oligarch loophole. The era of Russian interference on our shores coming to an end is long overdue and we cannot let Putin’s enablers get off the hook scot free.”