Rich Rus­sians in UK face new visa crack­down over poi­son­ings

Home Of­fice hints at new re­stric­tions af­ter Sal­is­bury charges

The Observer - - News - Jamie Doward

The right of more than 700 wealthy Rus­sians to live in the UK is un­der re­view as the gov­ern­ment mulls new ways of cur­tail­ing the power and in­flu­ence of the Krem­lin fol­low­ing the Sal­is­bury poi­son­ings. Home Of­fice sources have told the

Ob­server that min­is­ters be­lieve there may need to be fur­ther re­stric­tions on the is­su­ing of visas to over­seas in­vestors. This fol­lows a decade when hun­dreds of well-con­nected Rus­sians, many of whom are al­lies of Vladimir Putin and in­clude sev­eral prom­i­nent oli­garchs, have been al­lowed to make the UK their home in re­turn for in­vest­ing as lit­tle as £1m.

Krem­lin crit­ics and anti-cor­rup­tion groups, who have long com­plained that the UK has made it too easy for Putin’s al­lies to re­side in the UK, last night wel­comed con­fir­ma­tion of the crack­down.

It comes at the end of a week when Theresa May said the gov­ern­ment had con­cluded that two of­fi­cers from the Rus­sian mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence ser­vice, the GRU, were re­spon­si­ble for the poi­son­ing in March of Sergei and Yu­lia Skri­pal, an act she said was al­most cer­tainly ap­proved “at a se­nior level of the Rus­sian state”.

The Home Of­fice is con­duct­ing a re­view of tier 1 in­vestor visas, the use of which was heav­ily cur­tailed three years ago amid con­cerns they were be­ing is­sued to peo­ple whose wealth had been achieved by cor­rup­tion.

Un­der the changes in­tro­duced in 2015, which in­cluded rais­ing the in­vest­ment re­quire­ment to £2m, ap­pli­cants could be asked to con­firm the ori­gins of their wealth, some­thing that saw a sub­stan­tial tail­ing off in ap­proved ap­pli­ca­tions.

A Home Of­fice spokesman de­clined to com­ment on the re­view’s find­ings. But it is un­der­stood that the Home Of­fice be­lieves a fur­ther shake-up of the visa sys­tem may now be nec­es­sary as ten­sions be­tween the Krem­lin and Lon­don con­tinue to rise.

A Home Of­fice source con­firmed that the re­view, the third in four years, ex­tends back to 2008, when the tier 1 scheme was in­tro­duced un­der the Labour gov­ern­ment, which means it in­volves scru­ti­n­is­ing in ex­cess of 3,000 visas, more than 700 of them is­sued to Rus­sian in­vestors.

The source said: “We are re­view­ing all tier 1 [in­vestor] visas granted be­fore 5 April 2015, some of which are is­sued to wealthy Rus­sians. We have not ruled out mak­ing fur­ther changes to the tier 1 in­vestor route in or­der to en­sure that it con­tin­ues to work in the na­tional in­ter­est.

“The gov­ern­ment keeps all im­mi­gra­tion routes un­der re­view and has the abil­ity to cur­tail a visa where we find ev­i­dence of se­ri­ous wrong­do­ing,” the source added.

“We have been call­ing on the gov­ern­ment to re­assess re­cip­i­ents of the tier 1 visa to make sure that their en­try to the UK was not pred­i­cated on sus­pi­cious wealth,” said Rachel Davies Teka, head of ad­vo­cacy at Trans­parency In­ter­na­tional, an anti-cor­rup­tion or­gan­i­sa­tion. “We are there­fore de­lighted that the gov­ern­ment now ap­pears to have com­mit­ted to car­ry­ing out these checks.

“Dur­ing its first seven years in op­er­a­tion, the tier 1 in­vestor visa scheme was wide open to abuse by cor­rupt in­di­vid­u­als as very few – if any – checks were car­ried out on the source of those in­vest­ments.”

Davies Teka added: “In this pe­riod over 3,000 in­di­vid­u­als were granted a visa, each in­vest­ing a min­i­mum of £1m. Our re­search found that al­most a quar­ter of those were from Rus­sia, a state as­so­ci­ated with high lev­els of cor­rup­tion risk. This could mean that over 700 wealthy Rus­sians gained UK res­i­dency be­tween 2008 and 2015, with­out proper checks over the source of their wealth that al­lowed them to se­cure that visa.”

The visa crack­down is one prong in the gov­ern­ment’s re­sponse to the novi­chok at­tack in Sal­is­bury.

There are claims that the Na­tional Crime Agency is look­ing at is­su­ing a num­ber of un­ex­plained wealth or­ders to Rus­sians liv­ing in the UK, a new form of sanc­tion that could re­sult in some of them hav­ing their as­sets seized.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.