'Golden passports' under focus in Russia-Ukraine conflict

The UK, US, European Commission and Canada announced more sanctions on Russia, including curbs on ‘golden passports’ for Russian individuals.



By Prasun Sonwalkar

Published: Sun 27 Feb 2022, 6:21 PM

After Britain earlier this month scrapped a visa route that offered so-called ‘golden passports’ for a minimum investment of £2 million, more countries have resolved to limit such avenues for wealthy Russian individuals as part of economic sanctions on Russia after the invasion of Ukraine.

Several countries offer such fast-track residency and citizenship for a price, but there have long been concerns that they allow ‘dirty money’ to be laundered and offer opportunities to migrate for corrupt individuals that may face charges back home.

Among those who used Britain’s Investor Visa was diamantaire Nirav Modi, currently facing extradition to India.

On Saturday night, the UK, United States, European Commission and Canada announced more sanctions on Russia, including curbs on ‘golden passports’ for Russian individuals.

They said in a statement: “(We) commit to acting against the people and entities who facilitate the war in Ukraine and the harmful activities of the Russian government. Specifically, we commit to taking measures to limit the sale of citizenship—so called golden passports—that let wealthy Russians connected to the Russian government become citizens of our countries and gain access to our financial systems”.

Anti-corruption charity Transparency International UK has urged the British government to fast-track measures to crack down on dirty money. Its analysis has identified at least £1.5 billion worth of UK property owned by Russians accused of financial crime or with links to the Kremlin.

“Most of this property is held by secretive offshore companies. The true figure for illicit wealth invested in the UK is likely to be far higher, with almost 90,000 properties across the country owned by opaque companies which prevent the British Government, law enforcement and the public from knowing who truly owns them”, it says.

The Boris Johnson Government is committed to bringing forward legislation that would unmask the true owners of secretive companies owning UK property and give greater powers to Companies House to prevent the abuse of UK companies. To make the greatest impact on corrupt wealth, these measures should be implemented as soon as possible, it said.

Duncan Hames, director of Policy at Transparency International UK, said: “The government can only take action against assets it knows belong to those it now sanctions. Measures to reveal who really owns the companies that hold property assets here are needed urgently and should be implemented without delay”.

“The UK should now also do everything in its power to ensure Britain’s Overseas Territories are able to open their company registers to public scrutiny this year. By taking swift action on corporate secrecy now, the UK can be clear it intends those with dirty money should have nowhere to hide.”

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According to the charity, companies registered in the UK, Britain’s Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies are also used to hide the flow of illicit funds around the world. It has identified 2,189 of these entities used in 48 Russian money laundering and corruption cases.

“These cases involved more than £82 billion worth of funds diverted by rigged procurement, bribery, embezzlement and the unlawful acquisition of state assets. The UK’s Government should assist Britain’s Overseas Territories in ensuring their beneficial ownership registers are publicly accessible this year”, it added.


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