When the parliament’s foreign affairs committee asked British journalist Oliver Bullough about how much Russian money, both dirty and clean, gets laundered through London and parked in certain assets, he realized how little he or the government actually knew. For the Guardian, Bullough seeks answers to these important questions, separating the corrupt Russian money from the honest money, and addresses why it even matters. And why justice is elusive: Prosecution is even harder in the U.K., especially when key witnesses keep getting poisoned.
So whose money is this? How is it getting here? The bank’s analysts didn’t look into that question. However, had they wanted to, they could have walked down the hall and asked their colleagues, since it turned out that Deutsche Bank itself was a significant culprit in spiriting money out of Russia without informing the authorities. Less than two years after the report – called Dark Matter – was published, Deutsche Bank traders in Moscow were caught secretly moving $10bn (£7.5bn) of their clients’ money out of Russia by illegally exploiting the stock market. (As a result, the bank had to pay fines of $425m (£317m) in the US and £163m in the UK.)
With institutions as sophisticated as Deutsche Bank working to hide Russian money, it is unsurprising that the total amount in the UK remains vague. So there is no real answer to the foreign affairs committee’s first question, except to say that the volume of Russian money in Britain is far larger than the official statistics would have us think.
There are two reasons why we should be worried about this. The first is the low-probability but high-impact chance that Putin is hiding money here in the financial equivalent of sleeper cells, ready to slip out and buy influence when a crisis comes. The second is more significant: no one steals money if they can’t keep it. By letting Putin’s allies launder their stolen fortunes, and hide them in our country, we are drawing a line under their crimes, and rewarding them for actions we should not be condoning. Do we really want Britain to be the Kremlin’s fence?