The UK government has tightened its sanctions rules against Russia in the wake of revelations by openDemocracy that the UK Treasury gave sanctioned Russian warlord Yevgeny Prighozin – founder of the Russian mercenary group Wagner – permission to sue a British journalist.
Exchequer Secretary James Cartlidge issued a written statement to Parliament changing the rules so that libel and similar cases will no longer be presumed eligible for licences granted to lawyers working for sanctioned individuals. He told Parliament on 30 March that the Treasury’s Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation (OFSI) “will, in future, take a presumption that legal fees relating to defamation and similar cases will be rejected”.
openDemocracy reported on 23 January 2023 that a cache of hacked emails shows that in 2021 – when now Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was chancellor – the Treasury issued a special licence letting Prighozin circumvent UK government sanctions to pursue a libel case against Eliot Higgins, editor of investigative website Bellingcat.
In the House of Commons on January 25, Opposition Labour’s shadow foreign secretary David Lammy accused the government of granting “a waiver for a warlord”.
“This is a perfect example of a SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) lawsuit, designed to silence critics through financial intimidation.”
On January 26 the USA Treasury Department designated the Wagner Group as a “significant transnational criminal organization” for an “ongoing pattern of serious criminal activity” in Ukraine, the Central African Republic, and Mali, allowing the US administration to apply tougher sanctions and squeeze its ability to do business around the world.
Wagner recently claimed to have taken control for Russia of the town of Soledar in Ukraine’s Donbas region.
In the UK legal action which collapsed in March 2022, Prighozin tried to sue Higgins personally for articles and tweets about the Russian and the Wagner Group’s operations in Africa and the Middle East as well as his links to the Kremlin.
Tightening the sanctions rules
openDemocracy reveals UK help to Prighozin
UK reviews sanctions
US Treasury designates Wagner Group as criminal organization
Wagner claims capture of Soledar