British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was under pressure to go faster in targeting Russian oligarchs and seizing their assets in Britain.
Senior Tories called for the immediate seizure of oligarchs’ assets in the UK, such as luxury yachts and property, and the return of them to the Russian people “as soon as possible”.
Questions continued over why billionaires such as Roman Abramovich, who has announced he will sell Chelsea FC, have not been hit with sanctions.
Visiting Lithuania to show support to NATO allies, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said in an interview that the government must “make sure we have the right evidence to put in place those sanctions”.
But she added: “I’m very clear that legal threats will have no impact on our ability to sanction oligarchs and we will continue to work through our list, we will continue to sanction oligarchs, and there is nowhere for any of Putin’s cronies to hide.”
Downing Street sought to downplay the issue, with the Prime Minister’s official spokesman insisting: “We are not being held back from introducing sanctions.”
But he said “we do have laws that we need to abide by” when applying the economic restrictions.
“When it comes to individuals it is the case that we need to do the preparatory work, the requisite work, to make sure it is legally sound before introduction,” the spokesman added.
“Like I said, we will keep that under review and if there are ways to further speed it up then we will.”
He also sought to argue that sanctions on the banks funding the Russian president’s military machine will exert more pressure than going after his wealthy allies.
“Our judgment is placing sanctions particularly on large banks and companies … that is what we believe will exert the most pressure on Putin’s regime and will throttle off funding for this illegal war against Ukraine,” he said.
But Tom Tugendhat, the chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, called for the government to go further to follow European allies to seize oligarchs’ assets.
“We should be looking immediately to seize those assets linked to those who are profiting from Putin’s war machine, holding it in trust, and returning it to the Russian people as soon as possible,” he told PA.
Senior Tory MP Tobias Ellwood echoed the call, warning there will be “increasing public anger that we’re not doing enough to help our fellow Ukrainians in their hour of need”.
The chairman of the Commons Defence Committee told PA: “There’s a race to squeeze Putin given the war crimes he’s now committing in Ukraine and London continues to be seen as ground zero as to where oligarchs’ investments sit. So we need to be impounding these assets in days, not weeks or months.
“Every day we wait offers more time for the oligarchs to move their wealth to other parts of the world. Don’t forget it’s not their wealth, this is the stolen wealth from the Russian people which is utilised to keep Putin in power.”
French authorities have said they seized a yacht linked to Igor Sechin, an ally of Mr Putin who runs oil giant Rosneft, under EU sanctions. It was also reported Germany had seized another megayacht.
Abramovich, the Russian-Israeli billionaire who has owned Chelsea since 2003, announced he would sell the club, with the “net proceeds” going to a charity he would set up to “benefit of all victims of the war in Ukraine”.
His statement, which avoided any criticism of Putin, came after politicians including Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called for Abramovich to face sanctions.
Labour’s shadow foreign secretary David Lammy called for new legislation to be brought to the House of Commons early next week so the UK’s sanctions regime on individuals “can catch up with our allies and partners”.
“It is totally unacceptable that a week after Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine just 11 oligarchs have faced sanctions by the UK government,” he said.
Speaking during a visit to Estonia, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said the prospect of a normal diplomatic relationship with Russia is “almost impossible.”
“The consequences of what we are seeing in Ukraine will ripple through Europe and NATO for not just weeks but months and years to come.”
He said it will “be very hard for the international community to engage” with Putin “in the long term” following his invasion of a “sovereign country at huge scale, inflicting huge damage and violence”.
By Sam Blewett