Vladimir Putin didn't turn UK into a haven for Russian kleptocrats' dirty money – Brian Wilson

In 1994, John Major’s government introduced a “golden visa” scheme which allowed wealthy people to gain fast-track entry if they had £2 million to invest here. Later they could qualify for citizenship and passports.

The City of London has been a conduit for vast amounts of Russian money (Picture: Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
The City of London has been a conduit for vast amounts of Russian money (Picture: Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

It was always a morally dubious concept with predictable consequences. “Selling EU passports” has in recent times become a major revenue earner for countries like Malta and Cyprus but the UK was first onto the racket.

To the post-Soviet kleptocrats, £2 million was small change, so money plundered on a gargantuan scale from the former state assets of the Soviet people poured into London. It was welcomed with open arms with very few questions about its provenance.

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A whole industry grew up around it. Vastly expensive legal cases between rival oligarchs are fought in the British courts with the most expensive lawyers. The big accountancy firms continue to rake in the loot. Estate agents prospered as huge sums were laundered through property, in all parts of the UK.

All this has been accompanied by donations to the Tory Party, actively encouraged and solicited. Yet now we are told that one of the sanctions which will help keep Mr Putin under control is to mysteriously “clamp down” on the use of the UK as a refuge for dirty Russian money. It is not difficult to see why this will not exactly have him quaking in his boots.

Abolishing a visa scheme which panders to wealth and corruption should only be the start and indeed we are still to see exactly what the Home Secretary’s promise means. But there’s a whole structure here that needs dismantling.

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