Britain Considers Life Without Its Russian Oligarchs

Roman Abramovich, Britain’s best known Russian oligarch

.. Since he bought Chelsea—a purchase that made him a household name—Abramovich, more than any other Russian billionaire, has personified to the British public what oligarchs do and are. They buy soccer teams. They buy art. They get divorced. They are absentee governors of remote parts of Siberia. Their fortunes rise and fall according to their relationships with Vladimir Putin.

..  If the U.K. has decided it is no longer willing to take Abramovich’s money or—at the very least—to help him transform it from one asset class into another, this is quite a departure.

.. passengers on the flight were subjected to the kind of bureaucratic oddities that I have sometimes come across when reporting in Eastern Europe.

.. According to anti-money-laundering campaigners, in the last two decades around a hundred billion pounds of Russian money have come through London and been reinvested in property, commodities, and financial instruments

.. Between 2008 and 2015, the British government granted so-called investor visas to some seven hundred Russian citizens, who were each willing to spend two million pounds in the country.

.. During the same period, Russian oligarchs and Kremlin-connected businesses hired some of London’s finest bankers and lawyers to protect them from the closing circles of international sanctions and financial regulations.

.. On March 16th, two days after May expelled the diplomats, Russia raised four billion dollars from sovereign-debt sales on London’s bond markets.

.. The previous day, the Russian oil giant Gazprom had raised seven hundred and fifty million euros in bond sales in the city. “Business as usual?” the Russian Embassy tweeted.

.. On June 14th, the soccer World Cup kicks off in Moscow.

.. An estimated thirty thousand England fans will travel to the country to watch the national team play

 

Hitting Putin Where It Hurts

But the prime minister should have gone in harder. If she really wanted to teach Russia a lesson, she should have announced measures allowing her government to scrutinize the billions of dollars invested in Britain by Russian oligarchs and their associates, some of whom have criminal or intelligence backgrounds. This kind of transparency would hit President Vladimir Putin and his allies where it hurts most: their bank accounts.

To this day, anybody from Mexican cartels to Saudi arms dealers to Russian oligarchs (and even American real estate magnates) can invest money in Britain through anonymous companies registered in Crown Overseas Territories like the British Virgin Islands. In London’s central borough of Westminster alone, some 10,000 apartments and houses are owned by companies whose proprietors are entirely unknown to the government.

.. In 2016, Mrs. May’s predecessor, David Cameron, was preparing legislationto force anonymous companies to reveal their real owners. Then he lost the referendum on Britain’s membership in the European Union.

.. Mrs. May probably has her reasons for not going forward with the law. She is the country’s weakest prime minister to assume office since World War II. Brexit has not only polarized public opinion but also created bitter divisions in her cabinet, and several ministers are open about their desire to take her place.

Because of this, she has had to handle the relationship with Russia after the murder attempt with great care. If she gets it wrong, her already enfeebled administration could collapse.

.. Mr. Putin may have realized how weak Mrs. May is, which is why he would decide to act now to take revenge on a man he sees as a traitor and to cause Britain new headaches.
Russia’s motivation is understandable. Its economy faces serious structural problems, including a dangerous overreliance on oil and gas. At the same time, business leaders are worried about the country’s long-term demographic decline. Mr. Putin seeks to bolster his domestic popularity by looking powerful as he sows discord with the West.
.. The government is reaping the dubious rewards of having opened the City of London since the late 1990s to foreign capital with no questions asked about its origin.
 The initial aim of this permissive approach was to persuade investors that London — rather than New York — was best suited to be the world’s financial capital. Among the many to take advantage of the light-touch regulations were oligarchs, spies and gangsters.
.. Russian oligarchs have made an indelible mark on London. Some own newspapers, others our most successful soccer clubs, while many more own huge chunks of high-end property in the most fashionable parts of the capital.
.. And some of those characters are close collaborators and friends of President Putin.
.. If Mrs. May is convinced that Russia is behind this attack, then she needs to devise a way of getting to President Putin’s friends and collaborators. And that means great transparency. She should reintroduce the stalled proposal to force anonymous companies to reveal the sources of their cash.

George Papadopoulos is the ‘John Dean’ of the Russia investigation, his fiancee says

He has been mocked by President Trump as a “low level volunteer” and “proven to be a liar.”

But the fiancee of George Papadopoulos, the former Trump campaign adviser who pleaded guilty in October to lying to the FBI about his Russia contacts and is cooperating with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, says he is being miscast.

“I believe history will remember him like John Dean,”

.. she indicated in an interview that she believes he ultimately will emerge as more than a bit player in the Russia probe — and that his decision to cooperate after he was arrested getting off an airplane at Dulles International Airport in July was a key turning point.

.. Without offering specifics, Mangiante said there is much more that has not yet been told publicly about Papadopoulos’ 10 months as an informal national security adviser to Trump and his interactions with a London-based professor who told Papadopoulos, according to court filings, that the Russians had “dirt” on Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

.. Mangiante said she has been extensively interviewed by Mueller’s team, who asked about her own brief stint working for Joseph Mifsud, the same London professor who offered to connect the young Trump aide with the Russians.

.. Mangiante accepted in July 2016 but said she only worked for the group for three months, quickly concluding that it was “a facade for something else.”

She said she never heard Mifsud discuss Russians but quit when she was asked by his partner to attend a secret meeting to discuss Iraq in Tripoli. “I thought it was very suspicious,” she said.

Phil Vischer: Episoode 278: Writing Hymns & Singing Together with Keith Getty

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