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Ministers BAN sanctioned Russians from accessing funds for legal cases
Ministers move to BAN sanctioned Russians from accessing their frozen funds to launch legal cases in UK following row over Putin ally (the boss of the brutal Wagner Group) taking British journalist to court
- Treasury minister James Cartlidge announces ‘targeted changes’ to UK rules
Ministers today announced they are moving to ban sanctioned Russians from accessing their frozen funds to launch legal cases in Britain.
The action follows an outcry over reports earlier this year that a close ally of Vladimir Putin had been assisted by Treasury officials in taking a British journalist to court.
In a written statement to the House of Commons, Treasury minister James Cartlidge told MPs that officials will, from now on, reject applications for the use of frozen funds in order to pay for legal fees related to defamation and similar cases.
He also announced a specific crackdown against those sanctioned individuals from Russia and Belarus.
It comes after a review of existing rules was launched by the Treasury in January.
This followed claims that Yevgeny Prigozhin, the sanctioned boss of the brutal Wagner Group, was helped to lauch legal action against a Bellingcat journalist in the UK.
The action follows claims that Yevgeny Prigozhin, the sanctioned boss of the brutal Wagner Group, was helped to lauch legal action against a journalist in the UK
Mr Prigozhin is a close ally of Vladimir Putin and the Russian President has been aided in his efforts to invade Ukraine by Wagner Group mercenaries
Although Rishi Sunak was in charge of the Treasury at the time, the now PM was said to have had no part in considering whether Mr Prigozhin should be granted permission
In his written statement, Mr Cartlidge outlined ‘targeted changes’ to the process for issuing licences for access to funds for legal fees.
He told MPs this would ‘safeguard’ Britain’s sanctions regime ‘against the risk of manipulation’.
‘Our approach to date reflects the fact that the right to legal representation is a fundamental one and it is therefore important that designated persons are still able to access legal representation,’ the Treasury minister added.
‘However, in this context, it is the Government’s view that in most cases, the use of frozen funds for payment of legal professional fees for defamation cases is not an appropriate use of funds, and in many cases will be against the public interest.
‘Whilst still reviewing each individual application on a case-by-case basis (for both appropriateness and compliance with the right to a fair hearing), OFSI (Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation) will, in future, take a presumption that legal fees relating to defamation and similar cases will be rejected.
‘The Russian and Belarussian Legal Services General Licence will also be amended so that it no longer authorises legal fees for defamation and similar cases.
‘Any person or entity that acts without a specific licence where the activity is not covered by the General Licence, will be in breach of financial sanctions and liable for a monetary penalty or, if egregious enough, criminal prosecution.’
Mr Prigozhin is a close ally of Mr Putin and the Russian President has been aided in his efforts to invade Ukraine by Wagner Group mercenaries.
Many of them are currently engaged in the bloody battle for the city of Bakhmut, in eastern Ukraine, with their numbers having been boosted by the recruitment of Russian prisoners to their ranks.
In January, the website OpenDemocracy reported that a Treasury team issued licences to allow lawyers to help Mr Prigozhin launch legal action against a Bellingcat journalist in the UK in 2021 while the Russian oligarch was subject to sanctions.
Although Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was in charge of the Treasury at the time in his former role as Chancellor, he was said to have had no part in considering whether Mr Prigozhin should be granted permission.
The libel suit against the journalist followed revelations published by Bellingcat about the Wagner Group’s shadowy operations.
OpenDemocracy reported that leaked emails showed how the Government granted licences for a British law firm to work on the case, while permission was also given for Mr Prigozhin’s lawyers to fly business class to St Petersburg so they could meet face-to-face and finalise their legal attack.
The case collapsed in March last year following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
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