Britain no longer wants to be a safe haven for the money of corrupt politicians, public officials and organised crime, as a new law to clamp down on money laundering goes into effect this week.
Officials estimate that around £90 billion ($127 billion, 102 billion euros) of illegal funds are laundered through Britain every year and this includes money stolen from the Nigerian treasury.
Now officials will use new unexplained wealth orders (UWOs), which came into effect this week, to seize suspicious assets and hold them until they have been properly accounted for, Ben Wallace, Security and Economic Crime Minister told The Times newspaper on Saturday.
Wallace said Russian oligarchs suspected of corruption will be forced to explain their wealth.
Wallace said he wanted the “full force of the government” to come down on corrupt politicians and international criminals using Britain as a haven.
“When we get to you we will come for you, for your assets and we will make the environment that you live in difficult,” he said.
Speaking of Russian involvement, Wallace highlighted the so-called Laundromat case in which ghost companies — many based in Britain — were used to launder Russian money through Western banks.
“What we know from the Laundromat expose is that certainly there have been links to the (Russian) state. The government’s view is that we know what they are up to and we are not going to let it happen any more,” Wallace said.
“Beneath the gloss there is real nastiness,” he said of international crime lords.
“We are going to go after these iconic individuals, whether they are known about in their local community or known about internationally.”
UWOs allow the British authorities to freeze and recover property if individuals are unable to explain how they acquired assets in excess of £50,000.
Wallace said that a lawmaker from a country where MPs do not receive big salaries, who suddenly buys a luxury townhouse in central London, would have to prove how they paid for it.
“We will seize that asset, we will dispose of it and we will use the proceeds to fund our law enforcement,” he said.
“I have put pressure on the law enforcement agencies to use them (UWOs) soon.”