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The UK’s serious and organised crime-fighting force has complained it is struggling to tackle Russian kleptocracy and sanctions evasion because it is given only a third of the funding per officer handed to the FBI.
The National Crime Agency (NCA) said the UK had been slower to seize sanctioned Russian oligarchs’ assets than the US because it could not rely on the same “substantial level of investment” that Washington has poured into tackling international corruption and sanctions busting.
It said there were “hundreds more” specially trained American officers, investigators and prosecutors than British ones.
An NCA source told the Guardian in a briefing on Thursday that not only did the FBI have far more officers, but it received “something like three times as much funding per officer compared to the NCA”.
The agency said the lack of funding and attention given to kleptocracy – where a country’s elite use corruption to expand their wealth and power – had led to the UK being seen as a soft touch, attracting many oligarchs and corrupt figures to the capital, earning it the nickname “Londongrad”.
Last month the Commons foreign affairs committee said the government failure to tackle Russian kleptocrats laundering “dirty money” through the UK had resulted in millions of pounds used to finance Putin’s invasion of Ukraine flowing through London.
“I think it is fair to say we’ve all known about this problem for some time. It has taken time to work through,” the NCA source said. “Now we are making some process. We’re starting to shut some of those doors.”
However, he warned that the Home Office had asked the agency to model the effect of cutting its workforce by up to 40%. “We appreciate these are not easy economic times but having ringfenced funding means we can hire the right people.
“The real bit for me is that [the US] have had the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) for years, and the [UK’s] Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation (OFSI) is just trying to get up [and running],” he said. “OFAC have had a standing commitment for several hundred officers, and their level of investment has been substantial.”
The OFSI has only issued seven fines worth a combined £21m for sanction breaches since it was set up in 2016. By comparison, the US authorities issued 87 fines worth more than $1.5bn (£1.1bn) in the past five years.
The US’s KleptoCapture task force, which was set up following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to punish rich individuals whom Washington accuses of enabling Vladimir Putin’s regime, has secured warrants to seize a $350m Boeing 787 Dreamliner and a Gulfstream G650ER owned by the sanctioned former Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich. It has also seized superyachts worth hundreds of millions of dollars from other oligarchs.
The NCA said it needed more resources and powers to investigate and take action against “enablers” who help sanctioned oligarchs and other kleptocrats to move their money and avoid law enforcement. “From private schools to auction houses to solicitors – you name it, they’ve used it,” the source said. “We need to push back on some of these enablers who have let this happen.”
He said about a dozen people had been arrested in recent weeks, including some lawyers. “Our intelligence also shows us that some individuals are choosing not to invest corrupt funds in the UK – this is about starting to push back on this concept of Londongrad, that people were free to come regardless of their money and do whatever they liked.”
The Home Office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
National Crime Agency calls for more funding to tackle Russian kleptocracy
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