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Britain scraps 'golden' visas amid concerns over illicit Russian money

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By Reuters
UK cancels Belarus basketball team's visas over Ukraine
UK cancels Belarus basketball team's visas over Ukraine   -   Copyright  Thomson Reuters 2022

LONDON -Britain scrapped its so-called “golden visas” for wealthy investors on Thursday amid concerns about the inflow of illicit Russian money at a time of heightened tensions between Moscow and the West over Ukraine.

Hundreds of billions of dollars have flowed into London and Britain’s overseas territories from Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, raising fears among some allies that illicit money was cascading into the global financial system.

British lawmakers on parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee warned in 2020 that more work needed to be done to tackle “the illicit financial dealings of the Russian elite”, including overhauling the ‘Tier 1’ investor visa system.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s interior minister, Priti Patel, said on Thursday she had closed the Tier 1 system, which had offered a route to residency for those investing at least 2 million pounds ($2.72 million).

“This is just the start of our renewed crackdown on fraud and illicit finance,” Patel said on Twitter.

London has long been dubbed ‘Londongrad’ or ‘Moscow-on-Thames’ as the city of choice for the super-wealthy of Russia and other former Soviet republics.

Russian oligarchs, along with Middle Eastern oil barons and newly-minted Chinese entrepreneurs, have helped drive a spending spree on London property in the past three decades, snapping up opulent homes and iconic commercial property.

Charlie Fowler, a solicitor at Collyer Bristow LLP in London, said the Ukraine crisis had expedited plans to scrap the investor visas.

“The perception has remained in some quarters that the investor visa route is being exploited, in particular by applicants from Russia and China,” Fowler said.

“The problem for the government is that many investor visa holders have, of course, acquired their wealth by legitimate means,” he added.

($1 = 0.7345 pounds)