The U.K.'s Connection To Russian Money

Mar 16, 2018
Originally published on March 16, 2018 7:17 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Britain wants to punish Russia for what the U.K. believes is complicity in the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter in the south of England. Now, aside from expelling nearly two dozen Russian diplomats, Prime Minister Theresa May said there are also plans to freeze some Russian state assets. But May made no mention of investigating the billions of dollars invested in Britain by Kremlin-affiliated oligarchs. And the hesitation there could hint at the financial ties between Britain and Russia. NPR's Joanna Kakissis reports from London.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: I meet Arthur Doohan outside a Ukrainian oligarch's multimillion-dollar estate in London.

ARTHUR DOOHAN: Right here in the heart of prime London central property.

KAKISSIS: Doohan helps lead kleptocracy tours of London. He wants to show...

DOOHAN: The scale of money that's coming into the U.K. and the whole issue of the appropriateness of who is buying.

KAKISSIS: The Ukrainian oligarch, for instance, is Dmytro Firtash, who was backed by the Kremlin and fled to Austria after being accused of racketeering. The U.S. wants to extradite him.

DOOHAN: And one or two other countries as well. I think also the Ukraine would like to get their hands on him.

KAKISSIS: Is he in trouble here at all?

DOOHAN: Not formally yet, but I believe it's probably coming.

KAKISSIS: Anti-corruption campaigners like Doohan say now is the time for the British government to scrutinize the billions that Kremlin-backed oligarchs have invested in the U.K.

DOOHAN: I think the tide is going to turn on this. I think we have the government's attention.

KAKISSIS: But the British government is walking a fine line. Analysts estimate that Russian money accounts for about 10 percent of all land and property worth more than a million pounds in London. That's about $1.4 million. And Britain also has investments in Russia, especially in the oil and gas sector.

ANDREW FOXALL: BP, British Petroleum, owns almost a fifth of Rosneft, which is an oil company - Russian company that's a loosely disguised arm of the Russian government.

KAKISSIS: Andrew Foxall directs the Russia and Eurasia Studies Center at the Henry Jackson Society, a London thinktank.

FOXALL: Only last year, for example, BP signed a new deal with Rosneft to bring Russian gas to European energy companies by the end of the decade. So there are well-established relations in the energy sector there. Beyond that, though, there's not really much at all.

KAKISSIS: Foxall says Britain does not need Russia as much as Russia needs the West.

FOXALL: Russia's Achilles' heel is its dependence on the Western financial system. The Russian elite uses capital markets and payment systems to launder their loot and legitimize their ill-gotten wealth.

KAKISSIS: And Foxall says, if diplomatic tensions escalate, the U.K. still has leverage to hit Moscow where it hurts - in the pocketbooks of Kremlin associates. Joanna Kakissis, NPR News, London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.