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Stung by criticism, Johnson speeds up Russia sanctions

LONDON (AP) – United Kingdom (UK) lawmakers are set to pass a bill aimed at toughening sanctions on Russia and rooting out ill-gotten money from the British economy.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the Economic Crime Bill will let British authorities “pursue (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s allies in the UK with the full backing of the law, beyond doubt or legal challenge”.

Johnson said the new law would “whip aside the veil of anonymity” used by oligarchs to obscure ownership of properties.

Johnson has repeatedly claimed that Britain is leading international efforts to punish Putin over the invasion of Ukraine. The UK has slapped sanctions on a host of Russian banks and businesses, measures the government said have curtailed more than GBP250 billion (USD330 billion) worth of Russian economic activity. So far, though, it has sanctioned only a handful of Kremlin-linked individuals with assets in Britain.

That has drawn heavy criticism, which appears to be having an effect. Two weeks ago, Johnson said the Economic Crime Bill would be passed in the fall. On the weekend, he announced it would be rushed through Parliament.

The bill will require overseas firms with assets in Britain to reveal their true owners, an attempt to crack down on money-laundering and the use of shadowy shell companies to buy businesses and properties.

Initially, the legislation gave businesses 18 months to comply. That has been shortened to six months – but critics said it should be even shorter. Labour Party business spokesman Jonathan Reynolds said the grace period amounted to a “get out of London free card” for oligarchs.

Opposition lawmakers are urging the government to immediately seize oligarchs’ properties in Britain.

The government said the new law will also make it easier to slap sanctions on people and firms who have already been sanctioned by allies. Critics said the current rules involve too much legal red tape that can be used to forestall sanctions.

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks at a press conference. PHOTO: AP
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