UK sanctions regime for fighting corruption accused of failures

An expanded UK sanctions regime that took effect last year and is intended to tackle global corruption and illicit money entering Britain from overseas is proving ineffective, according to campaigners.

A report by the UK Anti-Corruption Coalition, a campaign organisation, and Redress, a charity, said the effectiveness of UK “global anti-corruption sanctions” had been “undermined by a lack of designations [against individuals and companies] . . . insufficient co-ordination and information sharing [between countries] . . . and limitations in enforcement and implementation”.

In April last year the British government extended its post-Brexit sanctions regime by putting in place anti-corruption measures that would enable the UK to impose travel bans and assets freezes on individuals and companies accused of corruption.

These measures followed the government’s “global human rights sanctions”, introduced in 2020, which gave Britain the power to impose travel bans and asset freezes on people and businesses accused of torture, forced labour or violations of the right to life.

The UK’s anti-corruption and human rights measures are similar to the US Magnitsky laws, named after Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky who died in a Moscow prison in 2009 after alleging officials were involved in tax fraud.

Since the UK’s anti-corruption rules came into force in April last year, 27 people have been targeted with sanctions, according to the report by the UK Anti-Corruption Coalition and Redress.

But between September 2021, when Liz Truss was appointed foreign secretary, and February 2022, no individuals or companies were targeted, it added.

By contrast, the US took action against 68 individuals and companies under its own anti-corruption sanctions in one week alone in December, said the report.

The UK has targeted less than 10 per cent of individuals penalised for corruption under the US Magnitsky sanctions regime, the report added.

Susan Hawley, executive director of campaign group Spotlight on Corruption and co-chair of the UK Anti-Corruption Coalition, said: “Since the foreign secretary’s appointment, no actors have been sanctioned under the UK’s [global anti-corruption sanctions] regime, in comparison to the 27 designations authorised by her predecessor [Dominic Raab].

“This slowdown is suggestive of serious capacity constraints within the [Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office] which are limiting the ambition with which the regime can be used,” she added.

The report made a series of recommendations, including increased funding for UK sanctions enforcement, and more effective use of penalties.

The government has, after an initially slow start compared to some other western countries, been stepping up its use of sanctions against Russia following its invasion of Ukraine.

Since March, the UK has sanctioned more than 1,500 individuals and companies linked to Russian president Vladimir Putin.

The government said: “The UK is making full use of our independent sanctions powers. Our focus is on using them to cut off the funding for Putin’s barbaric war in Ukraine.

“Sanctions imposed by the UK and its international partners are having deep and damaging consequences for Putin’s ability to wage war, with £275bn currently frozen and over 1,500 individuals and businesses sanctioned.”

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