London Russia ties
London Russia ties Image Credit: Gulf News

In the first weeks of the Ukraine war, audiences around the world were stunned by the racist speech of many television reporters, in Western countries, as they vented their frustration on seeing ‘blue eyed’ people ‘who looked like [their] neighbours’, Ukrainians who are not Syrians or Afghans, turning into your normal refugees.

Such appalling discourse is not the only revelation of the Ukraine war. Another one and disturbing too and scandalous is what has been dubbed the ‘London laundromat’.

Shortly after the first Russian missiles fell in Ukraine, Western countries, led by the United States, announced unprecedented sanctions on Russia aimed at crippling Moscow’s economy by drying up its revenues, including from its largest export sector, energy.

In addition, and in a rare move in International relations, Western states began to target wealthy Russians, also known as oligarchs, in those countries on the pretext that those individuals are ‘close’ to President Vladimir Putin. These governments went a step further; confiscating properties, luxury homes and yachts that belong to some of the richest Russian businessmen in the world.

As the British government began to move against the Russian billionaires, the true face of London’s system has emerged, shedding light on the dirty money the city has for long welcomed with open arms despite claiming all along that it’s financial system has been designed to fight money laundering.

The UK has also been a vocal critic of countries around the world, especially in the Gulf region, that London claimed didn’t measure up to the European benchmarks in eliminating money laundering and stopping the flow of dirty money.

The European Union even has a multicoloured list to classify ‘compliant’ non-European states and those who are not. The UK is not on the suspicious list of course. The pot calling the kettle black type of thing, isn’t it?

The non-governmental Organisation Transparency International recently reported that more than two thousand UK-registered companies were linked to Russian money laundering and corruption cases, and involved in more than £82 billion ($109 billion) of funds “diverted by embezzlement and unlawful acquisition of state assets,” — mostly high net worth assets of the former Soviet Union following its disintegration in 1991. Rich Russians also own billions of pounds worth of properties in London’s expensive neighbourhoods.

One of those wealthy Russians and the most famous of them is Roman Abramovich. According to most accounts of the life of the 58-year-old tycoon, he inexplicably amassed massive fortune by the 2000.

By that year, he was in control of large businesses that were previously owned by the Soviet state — 50 per cent of Sibneft oil company, majority ownership of largest aluminium producer in Russia, one of the biggest in the world, etc. in London, where he later established himself firmly as one of the biggest Russian investors in the city. He bought luxury properties, private jets, yachts, fleets of luxury cars and of course his most cherished possession, the Premier League’s club Chelsea, which he bought in 2003.

Trail of dirty money

In his best selling book, ‘Butler to the World: How Britain Became the Servant of Oligarchs, Tax Dodgers, Kleptocrats, and Criminals,’ published earlier this year, British investigative journalist Oliver Bullough details how what he called “dirty money” brought in by “the worst people on earth; the oligarchs, kleptocrats and gangsters” has transformed London.

He reports in great detail how these shady foreigners took very comfortable refuge in multimillion pound residence in the affluent neighbourhoods of Knightsbridge and Belgravia. He says that England “actively solicited such corrupting influences, by letting some of the worst people in existence know that it was open for business.”

Bullough’s assertions were in fact reported by an official oversight government body that has warned a year before the Ukraine war of the fallouts of the London’s attracting questionable money.

The Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament was the first to dub this illicit finance environment as the ‘London laundromat’ in a report presented to the House of Common in July 2020.

The report said in addition to acquiring luxury properties, five star clubs and restaurants and Premier League football teams, “the money was also invested in extending patronage and building influence across a wide sphere of the British establishment – PR firms, charities, political interests, academia and cultural institutions were all willing beneficiaries of Russian money, contributing to a ‘reputation laundering’ process.”

The report says: “The UK welcomed Russian money, and few questions – if any – were asked about the provenance of this considerable wealth.” These billionaires have been “well integrated into the UK business and social scene, and accepted because of their wealth. This level of integration – in ‘Londongrad’ in particular – means that any measures now being taken by the Government [to restrict illicit finance] are not preventive but rather constitute damage limitation.”

The report cites an example of the large private security industry in the UK which it says has been developed specifically to “service the needs of the Russian elite, in which British companies protect the oligarchs and their families… and on occasion help launder money through offshore shell companies and fabricate ‘due diligence’ reports, while lawyers provide litigation support”!

Cancellation of visa programme

Flowing the Russian offensive in Ukraine, the British government has seemingly changed its attitude towards its wealthy residents. It has, for example, cancelled the Golden Visa programme it had introduced in 2000 to woo the wealthy foreigners. Most Russian billionaires had the visa.

UK media reports quoted a release by the Electoral Commission as saying that the ruling Conservative Party has received more than £2 million in “donations from Russian-tied sources since Mr. Johnson took office in 2019.”

While the ‘shock’ of TV anchors and analysts upon seeing European refugees ‘who look like us’ fleeing Ukraine as a result of the war revealed the double standard of the Western elite in their worldview, which is not much different from that their governments hold, the unethical ‘London laundromat’ policy shows a double standard too, on the highest level.

It proves that the UK government, and likely many other Western governments, sought to attract massive money of clear questionable sources, with no questions asked, while they accuse others particularly in the Gulf and the Arab world, often falsely of not doing enough to stop the flow of such money.