Leading activist urges UK to target Kazakh elite wealth | Business
One of the architects of the updated UK sanctions legislation called on the government and criminal agencies to target the wealth of the Kazakh elite after at least 164 people died in the unrest.
Bill Browder, a US investor turned activist, said the UK government could use anti-corruption legislation to target Kazakhstan’s rulers on the basis of human rights abuses.
“It could be imposed in Kazakhstan very easily, and it should be used much more widely than it is now,” he told British MPs on Wednesday.
A report released last month by think tank Chatham House identified 34 British properties purchased by the Kazakh ruling elite from 1998 to 2002 at a cost of around £ 530million. Pressure is mounting on the government to use the tools at its disposal, including sanctions, property records and lawsuits to curb the flow of money from Kazakhstan and other autocratic regimes .
Protests over fuel prices in Kazakhstan last week turned into armed battles for control of vital infrastructure such as the airport of Almaty, the financial capital. The protests sparked a violent crackdown as well as an external military intervention backed by Russia.
Browder was speaking at a remote event hosted by MPs from the all-party parliamentary group on tackling corruption and responsible taxation, alongside MPs such as Dame Margaret Hodge of Labor and Andrew Mitchell of the Conservatives. All three were instrumental in the UK’s introduction of legislation in 2017 giving criminal agencies the power to target unexplained wealth.
Browder also helped ensure that gross human rights violations were included in offenses covered by the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018. The legislation was inspired by Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer and colleague of Browder who was killed in a Moscow prison after exposing an alleged fraud involving Kremlin officials.
Hodge and Browder both criticized the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA), saying it had not done enough to target the illicit wealth of dictators and kleptocrats, or their families. The NCA’s approach was “lazy,” pursuing easy pursuits rather than larger targets, Browder said. A spokesperson for the NCA strongly denied that this was the case.
Hodge said the UK failed to enforce sanctions against members of the Kazakh elite in part because of the ANC’s failure in 2020 to freeze the assets of the daughter and grandson of former President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev. Nazarbayev officially resigned in 2019, but he is widely seen as wielding significant influence over the Kazakh government, although that may change in the wake of the unrest.
Regarding the failed sanctions against the Kazakh rulers, Hodge said: “I think they are afraid because they have lost the unexplained order of wealth, but of course they should use the sanctions regime against them. . It’s scandalous.
MPs and activists called for increased funding for criminal agencies as well as other measures such as proper checks by the UK companies register and a register of beneficial ownership of property. Hodge told the Guardian that UK efforts to prevent kleptocrats from hiding wealth in the UK could fund themselves if the NCA were allowed to “take a slice of frozen assets to cover their costs.” She also said there should be a cost cap for agencies when prosecuting deep-pocketed offenders.
The NCA spokesperson said: “Tackling the flow of illicit finance into the UK is a top priority for the National Crime Agency. We will continue to use all the legislation at our disposal to prosecute suspicions of illicit financing and harness the full capabilities of UK law enforcement against serious criminals and corrupt elites. “