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London Closes Financial Sanctions Loophole

London Closes Financial Sanctions Loophole

Up until Friday, sanctioned oligarchs and despots could still send their money through banks in the U.K. Now, terrorist financiers and supporters of dictators on the U.K.’s "blacklist" will find it much harder to send money to London’s financial center after the British government quietly clamped down last week, closing a hole in its sanctions policy that could have been exploited by people trying to get around asset freezes.

"It would be huge. The possibilities are limitless," said Thomas Crocker, a partner with law firm Alston & Bird.

Sanctioned people outside of Europe could still send money to people in Britain, until the government recently reversed course. The British Treasury announced last month that money sent to the U.K. from all blacklisted people around the globe would be frozen starting Aug. 1.

The change brings the U.K. more in line with U.S. policy, which doesn’t allow blacklisted companies or people to send money to anyone in the United States without a special license from the Treasury Department. The U.K. will require a similar license now. But what has many sanctions experts and lawyers scratching their heads: Why did the British make such a loophole in the first place?

"They seem to distinguish between a designated person in the E.U. and outside the E.U. and I’m not sure why they would do that," Crocker said.

The difference in policy meant that until Friday, people and companies sanctioned by the European Union — over anything from supporting al Qaeda to Russia’s support of Ukrainian separatists — could still send money to people in London, as long as they didn’t do it from inside Europe.

The difference suggests that American and European policymakers were not coordinating as closely as they took pains to appear as they confront Moscow about its intrusions into Ukraine.

American companies could also have been disadvantaged because they are prohibited from doing business with or accepting payment from anyone on the U.S. list, while British companies were not under the same strictures.

The British Treasury and the British Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The U.S. Treasury Department’s sanctions office also did not respond to requests for comment.

British lawyer Maya Lester first noticed the policy change and wrote about it on her European Sanctions blog.