CORRUPT Asian elites are exploiting Britain’s property market and the City of London to launder the proceeds of drugs smuggling, a new report warned.
The report published on Friday (10) by the Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC) underscored the UK’s failure to prosecute money laundering crimes and emphasised its involvement in laundering the proceeds of drug trafficking.
The report highlighted a significant link between the drugs trade in Central Asia, presidential families, government officials, organised crime, and the City of London.
According to the report, the under-enforcement of financial crimes in the UK, allows Central Asian elites to use London to launder the profits from their drug trade. This failure poses a threat to economic sanctions against Russia, particularly through evasion schemes, it pointed out.
The report calls for increased resources for law enforcement bodies such as the National Crime Agency and the Serious Fraud Office. It deems British engagement with Central Asian countries a “geopolitical imperative,” given Russia’s exploitation of these nations to evade sanctions and spread disinformation about its invasion of Ukraine.
The FAC criticises the UK’s lack of engagement with Central Asian states and urges the closure of opportunities for entities involved in sanctions evasion to use the City of London and UK financial services.
MPs said that strengthening connections with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan is crucial to mitigate Russian and Chinese influence.
“One of the major challenges in the UK’s engagement with Central Asia is our continued underenforcement of financial crimes of kleptocratic autocracies – by our inaction, we are complicit in these crimes. Central Asian elites wash the profits of their drugs trade in the offices of the City of London. The fortunes at the fingertips of ultra-wealthy elites outstrip UK enforcement agencies, who desperately need more resources,” said Alicia Kearns MP, chair of the FAC.
“While our diplomatic engagement with Central Asia should be values-led, we must also remain clear-eyed about the considerable barriers in the region, particularly those relating to human rights abuses by governments. The focus of our engagement must be improving the lives of those in the region and making the case for democracy.”
Kearns urged prime minister Rishi Sunak to travel to Central Asian nations, enhancing relations and reducing reliance on Russia.
Professor John Heathershaw from the University of Exeter informed the committee that, according to his investigations, organised crime figures and money launderers in Central Asia utilise the UK to establish corporate structures and make investments in assets like property.
He conveyed to the committee that individuals involved in these activities own real estate in Britain, and their children are enrolled in UK universities.
The recommendations in the report include strengthening educational and cultural exchange programmes in the region, and addressing budget cuts at the BBC’s World Service to counter disinformation spread by Russia.
The report calls for political will and resources to implement these recommendations, aiming to improve the lives of people in the region while advocating for democracy.