(Bloomberg) – It could take months of legal work before the UK is even ready to consider sanctioning Roman Abramovich and other wealthy Russians, as government lawyers have yet to lay the groundwork for a watertight case against them, a person familiar with the matter said.
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Prime Minister Boris Johnson is under increasing pressure from the opposition Labor Party to sanction Abramovich, a billionaire who made his fortune in Russia and owns London’s Chelsea Football Club.
The UK has sanctioned over 100 Russian individuals and entities in response to the invasion of Ukraine, including at least nine wealthy individuals. But across the political divide, there is growing frustration that Johnson’s conservative government is lagging behind the United States and the European Union in targeting individuals linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The Times previously flagged the potential delay in sanctioning Russian tycoons.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is the first big test for the UK’s post-Brexit sanctions regime, which came into effect in 2020. It adds political risk for Johnson, who led the campaign to leave the EU, saying the UK would be able to act. more agile after losing the influence of the Brussels bureaucracy.
Johnson has sought to put the UK at the forefront of the West’s response, a push that is undermined if his government is seen as slow.
Amid a growing perception of foot-dragging in the UK, another person familiar with the matter said ministers were considering emergency legislation to speed up the sanctions response. The government could allow ministers to override legal challenges faced by foreign lawyers, according to a Tory MP familiar with parliamentary processes, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Asked in the House of Commons on Wednesday by Labor leader Keir Starmer why the government did not impose sanctions on Abramovich, Johnson said it was not “appropriate” to comment on individuals.
Abramovich, 55, made his fortune from dividends and sales of privatized assets acquired from the former Soviet Union, and now has Israeli citizenship. On Wednesday he said he was selling Chelsea and instructed the council to set up a charitable foundation which will receive all net proceeds from the sale.
While the UK sanctions system largely mirrors that of the EU, there are differences, including the mechanisms for challenging a decision. Previously this could only be done through the EU court system, whereas today a case can be filed within three months of a decision through the UK judicial review process .
There has been little time to see how UK judges deal with punishment issues. The government must produce sufficient evidence to show that it has reasonable grounds to suspect that the person or entity is involved in, or connected to, a sanctioned regime, or risks costly legal battles with deep-pocketed opponents.
That effort is complicated by budget cuts to the National Crime Agency, which helps gather evidence for sanctions, according to a person who briefed on the government’s plans. The person also said that while the EU has focused on targeting wealthy individuals, the UK has gone after financial institutions first.
The Foreign Office’s sanctions task force tripled in two weeks to 80 members, the person said.
“There may be a nervousness or a reluctance here to name people on a particular premise if there’s a legal challenge,” said Robert Dalling, a criminal defense partner at Jenner & Block who advises clients. on financial penalties. “If there were successful challenges at this early stage before the new legislation had really proven itself, that wouldn’t be ideal, so maybe there’s a bit of nervousness just because it’s is new.”
(Updated with the detail of the sanctions regime from the third paragraph)
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