An elite group of Russians with connections to president Vladimir Putin have donated to UK political parties, an investigation into foreign interference in UK institutions has found.
The probe, spearheaded by the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), concluded that rich figures from Russia are laundering money through a range of sectors and effectively turning the UK capital into ‘Londongrad’ and making Russian influence the ‘new normal’.
The much-delayed report by the ISC into Russian activity in British democracy said the UK had become a ‘particularly favourable destination for Russian oligarchs and their money’.
Aided by the UK’s 1994 investor visa scheme, Russian money has poured into charities, cultural and political institutions with ‘few questions – if any – asked about the provenance of this considerable wealth’, said the senior parliamentarians.
The committee did not name people it suspected of having close links to Putin and nor did it mention which political parties had benefited from Russian donations.
However, the ISC did warn that Kremlin-linked figures had given money to political parties in a move that could see them used to ‘assist’ Moscow.
It follows the report’s statement that there was ‘credible’ information to suggest Russia ‘undertook influence campaigns’ during the Scottish independence referendum in 2014.
The ISC said: ‘Several members of the Russian elite who are closely linked to Putin are identified as being involved with charitable and/or political organisations in the UK, having donated to political parties, with a public profile which positions them to assist Russian influence operations.’
In November, a report surfaced in The Times claiming that nine Russian business people who gave money to the Conservative Party were named in the ISC report.
According to the paper, oligarchs and wealthy Tory donors were set to be included in the conclusions that followed the probe.
The 50-page document – produced by the membership of the committee during the last parliament – said the investor visa scheme, established by John Major’s Tory government, ‘offered ideal mechanisms by which illicit finance could be recycled through what has been referred to as the London ‘laundromat’.’
The report said: ‘The money was also invested in extending patronage and building influence across a wide sphere of the British establishment – PR firms, charities, political interests, academia and cultural institutions were all willing beneficiaries of Russian money, contributing to a ‘reputation laundering’ process.
‘In brief, Russian influence in the UK is ‘the new normal’, and there are a lot of Russians with very close links to Putin who are well integrated into the UK business and social scene, and accepted because of their wealth.
‘This level of integration – in ‘Londongrad’ in particular – means that any measures now being taken by the government are not preventative but rather constitute damage limitation.’
The government, responding to the delayed publication, said it was determined to tackle the origins of ‘dirty’ money while ruling out an investigation into Russian interference during the 2016 Brexit referendum.
A spokesman said: ‘The government is clear that tackling illicit finance and driving dirty money and money launderers out of the UK is a priority.
‘The UK has one of the world’s largest and most open economies.
‘These factors make the UK attractive for legitimate business, but also expose the UK to money laundering risks.
‘However, we are not complacent and we will ensure the full weight of law enforcement bears down on dirty money.’
Downing Street added that it agreed with the ISC that ‘transparency of information about political donations’ was ‘important’.