The Sunday Telegraph

Detective ‘ordered to drop Russian corruption inquiry’

- By Robert Mendick CHIEF REPORTER

THE former senior police officer in charge of investigat­ing corruption has revealed that he was ordered to halt an inquiry into Russian money laundering.

Jon Benton, who headed up the National Crime Agency’s internatio­nal corruption unit, said a more senior official linked to the Foreign Office told him to drop his inquiry.

Mr Benton’s claim is deeply embarrassi­ng for the Government, which insists it is clamping down on cronies of Vladimir Putin who have stashed their wealth in the UK.

Mr Benton, a detective superinten­dent, headed up the internatio­nal corruption unit when it was set up in 2015. He retired last year. In March 2016, a 37-page dossier alleging money laundering in London by a Russian crime syndicate linked to the Kremlin was handed to him by Bill Browder, a British financier.

Mr Browder has led a near 10-year campaign against the Putin regime after Sergei Magnitsky, his lawyer, died in a Moscow jail, where he had been detained after exposing widespread corruption and theft from his businesses.

Mr Benton, in breaking his silence, told The Sunday Telegraph: “Bill Browder had brought this to my attention. I went away and checked our systems to see what we could find to corroborat­e what Mr Browder was saying.

“After about eight to 10 weeks, we had a reasonable package that was

good to go. It showed money laundering into the UK and quite enough to start a full money laundering investigat­ion. We were pretty sure it was Russian money.

“I was pretty sure it was the proceeds of the fraud and the corruption committed against Bill Browder.”

But a more senior official at the National Crime Agency with links to the Foreign Office, according to Mr Benton, then took him to one side and asked him to drop the case.

“I was approached and taken for a coffee and basically told Bill Browder is a pain in the neck and to leave it,” recalled Mr Benton.

A short while later the same official again took him to one side at the NCA and on that occasion told him: “This guy Bill Browder is a real pain. We are not carrying on with the investigat­ion.”

Mr Benton said: “At that point I said: ‘what do you mean’ and he said ‘it is closed and we are dealing with it. You are not to launch a money laundering investigat­ion’.”

Mr Benton thought it “odd” the more senior official had become involved because he did not normally interfere in “operationa­l matters”.

But the former detective has no idea what might have motivated the NCA, Britain’s equivalent of the FBI, to pull the plug.

Mr Browder’s dossier had alleged that $30million (£23million) of “illicit funds” had been laundered through the UK, most of it through Lithuanian accounts.

Mr Browder has named in Parliament the head of the organised crime gang as Dmitry Klyuev, 48, a businessma­n, whom he accuses of planning the theft of $230million (£176million) from Hermitage Capital, his investment fund that was based in Moscow but is now run out of London. Mr Browder has insisted Russian tax officials colluded in the theft and that high-ranking Russian police officers and ministers also benefited. When Mr Magnitsky, who was investigat­ing the alleged fraud, died in jail after being beaten and tortured, Mr Browder began a campaign seeking justice.

The US passed the Magnitsky Act that imposed sanctions on a series of Russian officials, but Mr Browder has accused the British Government of dragging its feet, even after the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury in March, that has plunged Anglo-Russian relations to a new low.

The fraud investigat­ed by Magnitsky has led to criminal investigat­ions around Europe and last week it emerged that Danske Bank, Denmark’s largest bank, had laundered £178billion, the biggest such scandal in European banking history.

Mr Browder had first alleged connection­s between the Danish bank and Russian organised crime some years before.

Last night, following Mr Benton’s claims, Mr Browder said: “It now appears as if there was a deliberate attempt at the highest ranks of the British Government to shut down the money laundering investigat­ion in the UK. There needs to be an inquiry in the UK. For some reason the British Government didn’t want to take action against Russian gangsters in this country.” NCA sources disputed Mr Benton’s version of events.

An NCA spokesman said: “The NCA is aware of the allegation­s made by Mr Browder and has carried out inquiries and assessment.

“The barriers to a criminal investigat­ion are high and a full investigat­ion is most effective where the major criminals can be brought to justice.

“In the NCA’s judgment this is not in the UK – so the NCA has offered, and continues to offer, assistance to foreign partners investigat­ing Mr Browder’s allegation­s.”

Mr Klyuev has denied any involvemen­t in the tax fraud using stolen Hermitage documents.

He has said the claims of the existence of the Klyuev crime gang as a “fabricatio­n and a lie”.

 ??  ?? Jon Benton, left, began to investigat­e after being handed files by Bill Browder, right
Jon Benton, left, began to investigat­e after being handed files by Bill Browder, right
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