The Treasury is reviewing its actions after reports it helped the head of Russia’s notorious mercenary Wagner Group circumvent UK sanctions to take a British journalist to court.
James Cartledge, the Treasury Secretary, confirmed that a review into the Treasury’s decision-making was underway but could not comment publicly on the case of Wagner Group boss Yevgeny Prigosan.
Investigative website OpenDemocracy reported that a small Treasury team had issued licenses to allow British lawyers to help Mr Prigosan – once described as “Putin’s chef” – bail in Britain in 2021. Initiate defamation proceedings against Kate’s journalist Elliot Higgins.
At that time, the Russian The oligarch was subject to British sanctions.
The Wagner group is recruiting criminals to fight. UkraineWhere it is heavily involved in Russia’s aggression. Ukraine says its fighters have been killed in the thousands.
Mr Prigozhin took legal action against Mr Higgins for articles and tweets about Russian and Wagner group operations in Africa and the Middle East, as well as links to the Kremlin.
Mr Cartledge said the Treasury’s Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation (Ofsi) follows a strict set of rules “for strong constitutional reasons” when allowing sanctioned individuals to sue because “everyone has legal representation”. has the right”.
Labor accused the government of giving “warlord immunity” to legal action, aimed at intimidating Mr Prigogne’s critics.
Several MPs have asked the government to declare the Wagner Group a terrorist organization.
Mr Higgins’ situation came up in an urgent question in the Commons on Wednesday, with Mr Cartledge replying: “It is a long-standing practice that the Government does not comment publicly on individual matters.
“It would not be appropriate to break this custom even in a serious case where there is clearly a public interest.”
Explaining the Office’s approach, Mr Cartledge said: “Applications are assessed solely on the basis of costs, and as a country of checks and balances it is right that the relevant court should decide the basis of a case rather than the government. The merits must be judged.
“However, I can confirm that, in the light of recent cases and in relation to this question, the Treasury is now considering whether this approach is sound, and if the Treasury can do so without accepting an unacceptable legal risk and “Make sure we follow that, changes can be made. The rule of law.”
He added that Prime Minister Rishi Shankar, who was the chancellor at the time, took no part in considering whether Mr Prigosan should be allowed.
David Lammy, Labour’s shadow foreign secretary, said: “It appears the government has let a warlord off the hook for a legal attack on a British journalist.
“This is a classic example of SLAP (strategic litigation against public participation) litigation, designed to silence critics through financial intimidation.”
Alicia Cairns, the Conservative chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, urged the government to “commit to looking at whether we need to introduce ministerial oversight”.
David Davies, a former Conservative cabinet minister, added: “If you are defending yourself in court then of course you have a right to representation.
“There is no fundamental right to use legal representation to destroy another or to shut down free speech.”
Mr Cartledge replied: “I think that the right to legal representation is a fundamental principle of our democracy and it can mean that individuals and individuals who we – and I’m not commenting on a particular case – but This may mean that individuals and those we find offensive therefore have a right to legal representation.
“Let’s not forget, even at the Nuremberg trials, the people who committed some of the most heinous crimes in the history of the Western world were legally represented.”
Former Labor minister Liam Byrne accused Mr Cartledge of “just admitting” that the implementation of the restrictions was “outside of ministerial control” – which the minister denied.
“We sanctioned Prigozhin because he was running an ‘undeniable military capability for the Russian state,'” Mr Byrne told the Commons.
“Ten months later civil servants under his control signed up £3,500 for business class flights, £320 for luxury accommodation at the Grand Hotel Europe Belmond, £150 for subsistence and more.
“Let’s be very clear about what the leaked emails from this conversation show. They show that Prigosan’s lawyers wanted to sue Eliot Higgins and Belling Catt ‘because of the public denial of the article. There is a reason for their position of restrictions’.
“He signed over money for a warlord to prosecute an English journalist in an English court to undermine the sanctions regime for which he himself is responsible.
“This is outrageous, it has to change and it has to be changed now.”
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