UK's Russia and China lobbyists must 'foreign influence' register

British lobbyists working for ‘hostile states’ like Russia and China will be forced to join ‘foreign influence’ register – and could face JAIL if they don’t – under ministers’ plans to tackle London ‘laundromat’ criticism

  • Capital dubbed ‘Moscow-on-Thames’ and ‘London Laundromat’ in the past
  • Oligarchs were able to clean their money and their reputations with local help 
  • By having to publicly register, PRs and lawyers have to emerge from shadows 
  • British lobbyists working for states hostile to Britain Russian and Chinese firms will be forced to sign a ‘foreign influence’ register as ministers try to clean up London‘s international image.

    The capital has attracted criticism for acting as ‘Moscow-on-Thames’ and the ‘London Laundromat’, where oligarchs are able to clean their money and their reputations with the help of local white collar experts.

    By having to publicly register, PR spinners and lawyers will have to emerge from the shadows if they want to represent people and firms with ties to autocratic regimes.

    The Government is expected to announce new measures in the Queen‘s speech in May, against the backdrop of the ongoing war in Ukraine and sanctions against key Russian influencers.

    Ministers are expected to announce further changes to the Economic Crime Bill and introduce a long-mooted Counter States Threat Bill, alongside changes to the Official Secrets Act.

    According to the Times, the lobbying register will be modelled on Australia’s Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme. Failure to comply with the Canberra scheme is a criminals offence, punishable by up to six months behind bars. 

    The capital has attracted criticism for acting as 'Moscow-on-Thames' and the 'London Laundromat', where oligarchs are able to clean their money and their reputations with the help of local white collar experts.

    The capital has attracted criticism for acting as ‘Moscow-on-Thames’ and the ‘London Laundromat’, where oligarchs are able to clean their money and their reputations with the help of local white collar experts.

    Last December publisher HarperCollins apologised to Roman Abramovich and settled out of court after he took legal action over claims in a book by Catherine Belton that he was ordered to buy Chelsea Football Club by Putin

    Last December publisher HarperCollins apologised to Roman Abramovich and settled out of court after he took legal action over claims in a book by Catherine Belton that he was ordered to buy Chelsea Football Club by Putin

    A description of the relationship between the UK and Russia before the Ukraine invasion

    A description of the relationship between the UK and Russia before the Ukraine invasion

    London has been nicknamed ‘Moscow-on-Thames’ because of the influx of wealthy Russians and their piles of cash over the past two decades.

    Billionaire oligarchs and hundreds of Russian-born millionaires given so-called ‘golden visas’ by the Government have amassed assets in Britain worth more than £70billion.

    Many have bought London’s most valuable properties and spend millions in the restaurants, luxury car dealerships and designer boutiques of Mayfair, Knightsbridge and ‘Chelski’. Their cash and businesses also help British lawyers, accountants, estate agents and PR firms become very rich themselves.

    Last December publisher HarperCollins apologised to Roman Abramovich and settled out of court after he took legal action over claims in a book that he was ordered to buy Chelsea Football Club by Putin.

    The publishing giant agreed to pay an undisclosed sum to a charity and make amendments to author Catherine Belton’s book Putin’s People: How the KGB Took Back Russia and then Turned on the West. 

    Belton’s book includes claims that in the early 2000s that Abramovich bought Chelsea for £150million in 2003 on the personal orders of the Russian president. 

    The former Financial Times journalist’s publication quotes exiled oligarch Sergei Pugachev – once dubbed ‘Putin’s Banker’ – as the source of the Chelsea FC claims, but Abramovich maintained the allegations were untrue and damaging both to him and the club. 

    But several references to Chelsea have been deleted or changed in a reprint making it clear that the allegation came from Pugachev and that there is no hard evidence to support the claim.

    A judge had previously upheld Abramovich’s claims that the book contained nine statements against him that were defamatory. 

    The move came months before he was finally sanctioned by the UK Government and his ownership of Chelsea effectively ended after 20 years.

    A judge had previously upheld Abramovich's claims that the book contained nine statements against him that were defamatory. The move came months before he was finally sanctioned by the UK Government and his ownership of Chelsea effectively ended after 20 years.

    A judge had previously upheld Abramovich’s claims that the book contained nine statements against him that were defamatory. The move came months before he was finally sanctioned by the UK Government and his ownership of Chelsea effectively ended after 20 years.

    Anti-corruption experts believe there is ‘more dirty money in the real estate market here (the UK), per square foot, than anywhere else on the planet’.

    The UK’s capital city provides ready access to financial markets for Russians, along with some of the world’s most sought-after educational establishments for children with rich parents.

    Oligarchs with links to the Kremlin have also used London like a ‘laundromat’ for illicit Russian money, a recent report warned.

    Britain welcomed Putin’s cronies ‘with open arms’ because of the cash they brought with them, the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) said in 2020.

    In damning claims, the report said oligarchs had penetrated British democracy by donating to political parties and hiring peers for their businesses. 

    MPs and peers on the ISC concluded that rich figures from Russia have turned the UK capital into ‘Londongrad’ by laundering their money, making Russian influence in the UK the ‘new normal’. The committee said ‘few questions if any were asked about the provenance of this considerable wealth’.  

    UK banks were also caught napping during the Russian Laundromat’ scandal, when it emerged that a network of 21 ‘ghost’ companies set up in the UK had been used to launder between £16billion and £65billion from Moscow between 2010 and 2014.

    Seventeen British banks — including Lloyds TSB, HSBC, Barclays, RBS and the Queen’s bank, Coutts — blithely handled £600million of such loot, before the scheme was exposed.

    At times, the failure of banks and regulators to catch onto the Laundromat beggared belief. For example, one ‘shell’ firm caught up in the affair, called Seabon Limited, filed Companies House returns suggesting its turnover was around £10 a year. In fact, bank records showed £9billion went through its accounts. 

    In January MI5 issued an unprecedented warning about access given to lawyer Christine Lee.

    In January MI5 issued an unprecedented warning about access given to lawyer Christine Lee. 

    She has donated more than £500,000 to Jeremy Corbyn ally Barry Gardiner, including around £200,000 used to pay staff ages.

    She has donated more than £500,000 to Jeremy Corbyn ally Barry Gardiner, including around £200,000 used to pay staff ages.

    As well as Russians, Parliament has been rocked by access scandals involving China this year. In January MI5 issued an unprecedented warning about access given to lawyer Christine Lee.

    Ms Lee, a Birmingham-based lawyer, donated hundreds of thousands of pounds to Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats before being outed as a Chinese agent.

    The alert from the security service said the a twice-married mother of two who lives in the affluent Birmingham suburb of Coleshill, was ‘knowingly engaged in political interference activities on behalf of the United Front Work Department of the Chinese Communist Party’. No politicians are suspected of any criminality. 

    Ms Lee, is a former chief legal adviser to the Chinese embassy in London and a legal adviser to the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office. She is also the secretary of the Inter-Party China Group at Westminster. 

    She has donated more than £500,000 to Jeremy Corbyn ally Barry Gardiner, including around £200,000 used to pay staff ages. 

    Her son, Daniel Wilkes, worked in his Parliamentary office before quitting when the warning about his mother was issued. There is no suggestion he was involved in his mother’s activities.