Labour urges action on economic crime over Russia tensionson February 23, 2022 at 4:45 pm

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Boris Johnson is facing calls to accelerate moves to tackle economic crime amid the crisis in Ukraine.

View of the City of London

Image source, Getty Images

Labour is urging the government to fast-track plans to clamp down on economic crime, amid pressure over UK links to Russia.

Sir Keir Starmer called for long-promised legislation to be introduced in the coming days, adding there’s “no reason to delay”.

The Economic Crime Bill is expected to bring in new transparency measures for UK firms and property.

Boris Johnson said the bill would be put forward within the next year.

At Prime Minister’s Questions, he said he was “proud” of the government’s attempts to “root out corrupt Russian money”.

The bill has reportedly been under consideration for some time, but has come under greater focus amid tensions with Russia over Ukraine.

The UK has joined other Western countries in introducing sanctions after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered troops into two rebel-held regions of eastern Ukraine he recognised as independent on Monday.

Ministers have since faced increasing calls from opposition parties to take action against Russians accused of financial crime or with links to the Kremlin.

During PMQs, Sir Keir called on the prime minister to introduce the bill before the current session of Parliament is due to end in a few weeks’ time.

‘Far too long’

He added: “He will have our support – there’s no reason to delay this,” telling MPs Russia had already “invaded” Ukraine and it was “time to act”.

The prime minister replied that the legislation would be introduced in the next parliamentary session, which begins in the spring.

Mr Johnson said it would allow the UK to “peel back the façade” of who ultimately owns properties and companies based in the UK.

“It’s gone on for far too long, we are going to tackle it under this government,” he added.

Russian President Vladimir Putin

Image source, EPA

The government has never given a precise timetable of when the bill would be introduced – or details of what it will contain.

After he quit as a Treasury minister last month over the government’s record in tackling Covid fraud, Tory peer Lord Agnew wrote in the Financial Times that the government had recently “foolishly rejected” introducing it next year.

The government has said since 2016 it plans a new register of the beneficial owners of UK property – an idea it also recommitted to as part of a foreign policy review published in March 2021.

Transparency calls

As part of that review, it also said it was looking at reform of Companies House – the body responsible for registering UK companies.

Transparency campaigners have long called for the body to get greater powers to monitor and investigate firms, amid concern the UK is becoming a haven for the registration of shell companies.

Ministers have previously said they were looking at requiring more information from people registering companies, as well as additional checks.

But speaking in the Commons during a debate on economic crime on Wednesday, Labour shadow Treasury minister Pat McFadden said there was an “enormous gulf” between ministers’ “rhetoric” and their actions so far.

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