Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has signalled an interest in tough US-style sanctions against the wealthy circle of businessmen around Vladimir Putin.
The Government came under fire on Monday for continuing to allow Putin allies to use the City of London as a base for their “corrupt assets” in the wake of the Salisbury poisoning case.
In a hard-hitting report, the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee called for “stronger political leadership”, with further sanctions against Kremlin-connected individuals.
Downing Street denied it was “turning a blind eye” to “dirty money” from Russia, insisting the UK was determined to drive “dirty money and money launderers” out of the country.
But so far, the UK has held back from following Donald Trump’s decision to sanction individual Russian oligarchs and officials in response to the attack on Sergei and Yulia Skripal.
Individuals targeted by new US restrictions in April included some of the Russia’s richest and most powerful people, such as gas company boss Vladimir Bogdanov and industrial tycoon Oleg Deripaska.
Speaking during a visit to Argentina for the G20 foreign ministers’ meeting, Mr Johnson said he had “noted” the success of US sanctions, which in some cases had a “very marked” impact on those targeted.
He said the UK had recently introduced a new law allowing authorities to issue unexplained wealth orders, freezing assets which are believed to result from corruption.
“I think there is a broader question about what the UK can do to crack down on people close to Putin who may have illicit or ill-gotten wealth,” he said.
“We have a statute that allows us to use unexplained wealth orders against them. But we live under the rule of law, so whatever happens must be done in accordance with the law.”
Asked whether he was interested in Mr Trump’s approach, the Foreign Secretary said: “The truth is actually, I think, that the effect of some of those sanctions – particularly on some individuals – has been very marked and I have noted that.
“But we have our own systems and our own approach, and we’ve got to do it in accordance with the law and in accordance with the evidence.”
In its report, the committee said that despite Britain blaming Russia for the use of Novichok nerve agent in the March attempted assassination, it remained “business as usual” in the City for wealthy Russian oligarchs.
When they pressed Mr Johnson during their inquiry on what could be done to halt to flow of corrupt money into the UK, the MPs said he appeared to suggest “there was no real role for Government in this process”.
Speaking during a visit to Jodrell Bank Observatory in Cheshire, Prime Minister Theresa May said the Government had taken “significant steps” to tackle illicit finances in the UK.
“We have set up the National Crime Agency,” she said. “We have set up a new national economic crime centre within the National Crime Agency under the security and economic crime minister.
“Through the Criminal Finances Act, we have taken greater powers for the UK to be able to act against criminal finances and we will ensure that we do so.”
Mr Johnson had been expected to come face-to-face with his Russian counterpart for the first time since the attack on the Skripals at Monday’s G20 meeting, but Sergey Lavrov announced at the last minute that he would not come.
“It is notable that Sergei Lavrov has chosen not to come,” said the Foreign Secretary ahead of the meeting.
“I don’t know quite what his reasons are but we will clearly be saying something about the importance of supporting a rules-based international order.
“I will be repeating the points the UK has made consistently about Salisbury, which has attracted a very wide measure of global condemnation, an extraordinary unanimity actually from the international community.
“I don’t know why Lavrov hasn’t come. He would have had the opportunity to hear my views, he obviously has decided that he doesn’t want to hear them, but that’s his decision.”