Tensions between London and Moscow have hit a low point after the recent alleged nerve agent attack on Sergei Skripal, a former intelligence officer for the Russian military who later defected to the UK. The attack landed Skripal, his daughter, and three police officers responding to the event in the hospital. London responded with a series of punitive diplomatic measures, including the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats.
As the rift deepens, the UK government is retaliating further by reviewing over 700 Tier 1 Investor Visas held by Russian nationals. The Tier 1 Investor Visa provides foreign nationals with a clear path to permanent residence in the UK in exchange for a minimum investment of £2 million in UK government bonds, share capital, or loan capital in active and trading UK registered companies.
From 2011 to 2016, Russian and Chinese nationals made up the majority of Tier 1 Investor Visa recipients. The program existed without stringent due diligence checks until 2015, allowing foreign nationals to apply without a UK bank account. According to Transparency International, the government relied on foreign banks to provide their own checks.
Senior Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs are also pushing for a comprehensive review of Russian property owners in the UK to determine the legitimacy of their funds. Lib Dem leader Vince Cable has supported court-mandated “unexplained wealth orders”, which would require political figures outside of the EU to demonstrate how they afforded property within the UK. Failure to show that funds were obtained legitimately could result in seizure of the property.
“The prime minister must demand these oligarchs, who surely must be considered politically exposed persons, explain in writing, with detailed documentation, just how they obtained their fortunes. If the answers are not forthcoming or are unsatisfactory, then authorities must seize their assets as a matter of urgency,” Cable commented.
It remains to be seen if the current review of Tier 1 Investor Visa holders will result in a substantive policy change related to the program. However, if evidence of wealth obtained through corruption is uncovered, those considering applying for the visa should prepare for changes to the application process.