Scots firms ‘being used to launder dirty money from Russia’

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Prime Minister Theresa May has been warned she must take action over controversial Scottish shell companies used to funnel hundreds of millions of pounds out of former Soviet countries in the wake of the nerve agent attack blamed on Vladimir Putin’s government.

Prime Minister Theresa May has been warned she must take action over controversial Scottish shell companies used to funnel hundreds of millions of pounds out of former Soviet countries in the wake of the nerve agent attack blamed on Vladimir Putin’s government.

Ian Blackford appearing on Peston on Sunday. Picture: ITV

Ian Blackford appearing on Peston on Sunday. Picture: ITV

Scottish Limited Partnerships have been condemned as a legal means to facilitate organised crime, money laundering and tax evasion, with thousands set up using ordinary addresses in Scotland through 100-year-old legislation.

READ MORE: Russia researching nerve agents for assassinations, Boris Johnson claims

Demands for financial penalties on Russia in the wake of the Salisbury attack have focused on the so-called Magnitsky Amendment, seeking restrictions on individuals suspected of human rights abuses.

However, SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford said SLPs could no longer be ignored as scrutiny falls on wealthy Russians sheltering their assets in the UK.

The call came as Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson faced embarrassment after admitting that he played a game of tennis with the wife of a former Russian minister who donated £160,000 to the Conservatives.

READ MORE: ‘Kremlin trolls target Nicola Sturgeon’ after Russia criticism

Lubov Chernukhin – a long-standing donor – bid for the game at a fundraising auction at a Tory event. The match took place in 2014, when Mr Johnson was mayor of London.

Mr Johnson said yesterday there should not be a “miasma of suspicion on all Russians” and insisted the donation was “not a matter for me”.

In presidential elections yesterday, Mr Putin secured a landslide victory, but turnout fell on 2012 numbers in an election that featured no major opposition candidates.

Mr Blackford has written to the Prime Minister calling on her to bring together party leaders and impose new restrictions on SLPs, which are operated under financial regulations reserved to Westminster.

He told The Scotsman: “Now is the time for the UK government to show that it is serious and finally take the tough action needed.”

One SLP registered in Glasgow was used to transfer £160 million out of Russia last year. A network of 21 SLPs was involved in a billion-dollar fraud that siphoned money worth more than a tenth of Moldova’s GDP from the former Soviet republic’s banks.

While SLPs and most of their users are legal, they have been linked to drug trafficking, child pornography and mercenary organisations operating in the Ukraine.

Mr Blackford said the flow of money “must be stopped”. He said: “The UK government has acted as a roadblock to reforms in recent years. They prevented our attempts to introduce effective Magnitsky legislation, and blocked SNP amendments on tackling the use of SLPs to funnel millions of pounds in dirty money.

“We must take strong and robust action to protect our national security, and tackle these corrupt and criminal activities.”

Asked about the donation from Mrs Chernukhin –now a British citizen whose husband served under Mr Putin as a finance minister until 2004 –Mr Johnson admitted that he had played a tennis match in exchange for the £160,000.

Mrs Chernukhin is also understood to be the donor who paid £20,000 earlier this year to have dinner with Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson. The dinner has not yet taken place.

Mr Johnson told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “Unless and until evidence is produced against individual Russians, I do not think the entire nation should be calumnified.

“There are many Russians who have come to this country, made their lives here and contributed magnificently to our culture and our society. They feel threatened … it is very important that we do not allow a miasma of suspicion about all Russians in London.”

He added: “It is quite extraordinary at a time when you have two people lying gravely ill in hospital in Salisbury, when a police officer is still not out of hospital, for the fire somehow to be turned on Conservative Party funding. To the best of my knowledge all possible checks have been made and they will continue to be made.”

Labour said Mr Johnson and the Conservative Party had “serious questions to answer” about donations from sources linked to the Kremlin.

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell has suggested a package of measures to make up an “oligarch levy”, including new taxes on offshore property purchases and powers to confiscate illegal “unexplained wealth”.

Shadow Cabinet Office minister Jon Trickett said: “We know the Tories have taken more than £3m in Russian-linked donations since 2010, including £800,000 under Theresa May’s leadership, but we don’t know the nature of all those funds. The Conservative Party can’t remain silent any longer, the public have a right to know what checks if any they made to establish the source of all the wealth amassed by their donors.”

Conservative spokespeople have insisted all donations comply with electoral law.