Home secretary Amber Rudd has asked officials to review the basis on which more than 700 wealthy Russians were allowed to settle in the UK, in a sign of further British retaliation against Russia after the Salisbury nerve agent attack.
Ms Rudd told MPs that Home Office officials were looking at how Russians who have secured so-called Tier 1 visas in order to live in the UK acquired their wealth.
But she did not make clear to the Commons home affairs select committee what action the Home Office would take if it discovered that visa holders’ wealth had been acquired through corruption or other crime.
The rules to qualify for Tier 1 visas — which people who can show they have at least £2m to invest in the UK can apply for — were tightened up in 2015 to introduce checks on how applicants obtained their money.
Ms Rudd suggested use of the visa had declined 86 per cent since the reform of the rules.
She said she had asked officials to look at awards of Tier 1 visas made “over the last few years”.
Yvette Cooper, chair of the committee, asked whether that meant retrospective action was being taken over visas issued before the 2015 reform.
“I’ve asked to look at a cohort of previous ones, to see if there’s a decision that needs to be taken,” replied Ms Rudd.
She meanwhile said she had no update for MPs after announcing this month a review of up to 14 deaths in the UK, in which police had previously ruled out foul play, to see if there are any links to Russian involvement.
That move followed an investigation by the website BuzzFeed, published last June, which claimed the victims, including the late tycoon Boris Berezovsky, may have been the victims of Russian assassins operating on British soil.
Mr Berezovsky was seen as Russian president Vladimir Putin’s enemy number one when he was found dead at his home in Ascot in 2013.
While acknowledging her review into the 14 deaths, Ms Rudd said the immediate priority had to be the investigation into the poisoning on March 4 in Salisbury of Sergei Skripal, a former Russian intelligence officer, and Yulia, his daughter.
Prime minister Theresa May said 10 days after the attack on the Skripals that it amounted to “an unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the UK”. Russia denies any role.
She announced plans to expel 23 Russian diplomats regarded as undeclared spies, and since then more than 20 other nations have made similar moves.
Mrs May also said the UK would adopt a version of the US Magnitsky act, allowing it to freeze assets and withhold visas from Russian officials accused of human rights abuses.
In his initial response to Mrs May’s linking of the Salisbury attack to Russia, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn criticised the government’s attitude to “corrupt oligarchs” who brought “ill-gotten cash” to London.
The government, however, has said it needs to act carefully to ensure that any action taken is within the law.
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