UK courts win more powers to freeze assets of human rights violators


UK lawmakers have approved an initiative which allows the freezing of U.K. assets of alleged human rights violators even if the offences do not take place within the country.

The new powers, known as the "Magnitsky" initiative, update the Criminal Finances Bill which entered parliament last October and seek to make it more difficult for human rights abusers to hide ill-gotten funds within the U.K.

London property has long been seen as a popular place to stash funds emanating from criminal activities.

The changes unanimously voted through on Tuesday allow the government to apply to the U.K. courts to try alleged violations of human rights cases. The type of activities which may be brought to the court are those which would be illegal within the U.K. but took place abroad.

The U.K.'s adoption of the Magnitsky amendment follows its passage into law in the U.S. in December 2012 under former President Barack Obama.

The initiative is named after Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky who was tortured and died in Russian police custody following his investigations into a $230 million fraud allegedly led by Russian government officials and professional criminals.

"Since so many human rights abusers in Russia and other autocratic regimes have expensive properties in London, they will be panicking this evening as they consider the possibility that their assets will be frozen and seized in the UK. This is a fitting legacy for Sergei Magnitsky. It means that his sacrifice will create consequences for human rights abusers and a strong deterrent against future abuses like the ones he was subjected to," Magnitsky's former employer, Bill Browder, co-founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of Hermitage Capital Management and prominent anti-Putin activist, wrote in an email to CNBC on Tuesday.

This is a tremendous victory for the global anti-money laundering regime, Roman Borisovich, prominent political activist and founder of the Campaign for Legislation against Money-laundering in Property by Kleptocrats (ClampK) told CNBC via phone on Tuesday.

"While this amendment together with the rest of the Criminal Finances Bill makes for an almost all-inclusive and comprehensive legislation, we are now just waiting for the final piece of the puzzle, which is for the government to deliver on its promise to enforce transparency of all beneficial company owners," Borisovich affirmed.

"We also need to see prosecutions with real cases tried in courts and results being delivered," he added.

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