Vladimir Putin was branded a “gangster” by the Home Secretary as MPs sought to rush through new laws designed to tackle “dirty money” hidden in the UK.
Priti Patel took aim at the Russian president and his “cronies” during consideration of the Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Bill, which was expected to clear all stages in the House of Commons on Monday.
The reforms have faced months of delays and only moved up the Government’s list of priorities following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Ms Patel said the Bill will give the UK Government “greater power and information to identify and investigate the illicit wealth of Russian criminals, their allies and their proxies”, amid concerns that money is often buried in property with the true owners hidden behind shell companies that only exist on paper.
The legislation is set to establish a new register of overseas entities requiring foreign owners of property in the UK to declare their true identity.
The register would need to be updated each year and penalties for failing to declare details, or submitting false information, would result in the asset being frozen and it cannot be sold or rented out.
Amendments to the legislation have also been tabled by ministers in a bid to reduce the time given for overseas entities to comply with new rules, from 18 months to six.
Labor has suggested the allowance should be cut to 28 days while Conservative former minister Sir Bob Neill said three months would “meet the balance very sensibly”.
Other Government amendments include increasing criminal penalties for non-compliance from fines of up to £500 per day to up to £2,500 per day.
Another change will tie the Government to publishing an annual report on the use of unexplained wealth orders (UWOs), which allow law agencies to confiscate criminal assets without ever having to prove that the property was obtained from criminal activity.
Ms Patel, opening the debate at second reading, told the Commons: “Putin is a gangster and his regime is underpinned by a mob of oligarchs and kleptocrats who have abused the financial system and the rule of law for too long.
“Putin’s cronies have hidden dirty money in the UK and across the West and we do not want it here.
“Expediting this legislation, which I know this whole House supports, will mean that we can crack down on the people who abuse the UK’s open society.”
Ms Patel added: “The new property register will have an immediate effect dissuading those intending to buy UK property with illicit funds.
“Oligarchs could be slapped with an unexplained wealth order, just one of the tools that we will have at our disposal.
“The Treasury will be better able to act when financial sanctions are breached.
“We’re implementing the most severe package of sanctions ever imposed on Russia or on any major economy.”
Ms Patel said a second economic crime bill will follow in the next parliamentary session to introduce further measures.
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper offered Labour’s support to the Bill but insisted on many of the measures “should have happened some years ago”.
She said: “We want to see stronger action against Russia at this time of international crisis.
“We want to see stronger action against economic crime that puts us to shame and undermines our economy and the rule of law and we need action on transparency, on regulation, on enforcement and on accountability, too many areas where there has not been progress for too long.”
Conservative former cabinet minister David Davis warned of Russian retaliation.
He said: “It (the Bill) will do great harm to the Russian economy, it will do great harm to our adversaries in Russia, but it will also do some harm to us, or at least the retaliation will do some harm to us.” .
“Particularly it will hit the least well-off, so we’ll see greater price inflation, we’ll see less growth, less trade and therefore less jobs and we must recognize that, when we undertake what we’re doing here.
“We can make Russia a pariah state, but Putin will retaliate and we must be ready.
“We need to be ready for fuel crises, the cyber attacks and for the ludicrous threats from the Kremlin.”
The Bill received an unopposed second reading and votes on amendments are expected from approximately 9.30pm.