London Daily

Focus on the big picture.

Yevgeny Prigozhin: UK reviews rules after Wagner head sued journalist

Yevgeny Prigozhin: UK reviews rules after Wagner head sued journalist

The Treasury is considering changes to the process that allowed the head of Russia's Wagner group to get around UK sanctions and sue a UK journalist.

Investigative reporter Eliot Higgins faced action by Yevgeny Prigozhin - whose Wagner mercenaries are fighting for Russia in Ukraine - in late 2021.

OpenDemocracy reported the UK issued special licences so he could override sanctions and pay his legal fees.

The case was dropped when he admitted his ties to the notorious private army.

Mr Prigozhin was first sanctioned by the UK in 2020 in a bid to stop anyone doing business with him.

But under a UK law defining the Russian sanction regime, provisions allow sanctioned people to cover their "basic needs", including the ability to apply for a licence to pay for legal fees.

Decisions are taken by the Office for Financial Sanctions Implementation, a department in the Treasury which reviews applications by people placed under financial measures.

Mr Prigozhin successfully used this route to enlist the help of Discreet Law, a London-based law firm, in order to take action against Mr Higgins, reported Open Democracy, a UK website that focuses on human rights.

Treasury minister James Cartlidge told MPs on Wednesday that the guidance for these exemptions was "longstanding" - but said the government "is now considering whether this approach is the right one and if changes can be made".

A Treasury spokesman also said these applications are reviewed by officials with no political involvement - with Mr Cartlidge later telling the Commons "we are not aware of any decision being taken by a minister".

Shortly before the legal case was brought, Mr Higgins's website Bellingcat had recently published a story naming businessman Mr Prigozhin - an ally of Vladimir Putin - as the man behind the Wagner Group.

He denied involvement until after the February 2022 invasion began, despite having already been sanctioned by the UK government over the group's activities in Libya in October 2020.

The journalist was personally sued in the UK for tweeting articles by his publication and other outlets. He believes the decision to target him rather than Bellingcat was designed to intimidate.

Speaking to the BBC, Mr Higgins called for greater transparency about how the rules are applied. He said he was left with £70,000 in legal costs despite the case being dropped.

He said: "For me the question is, 'What is the process?' No one seems to fully understand that. Until there has been more transparency we can't make a judgement about if it was applied correctly.

"Then the next question is, 'Do we want this sort of process in place where journalists can be sued?'"

He added: "How do I know some other oligarch isn't going to do the same thing again to me next week? This time the costs were five figures but it might be six or seven figures next time."

Discreet Law has been under investigation by the Solicitors Regulation Authority since May 2022 following a formal complaint from Bellingcat.

Mr Prigozhin has been sanctioned by the UK, European Union and US. He has been accused of interfering in foreign elections by Western governments using online "troll farms".

The 61-year-old rose from an obscure background working as a hot dog street vendor and serving time in prison for robbery before going on to become a key Putin ally.

His lucrative catering contracts with the Kremlin earned him the nickname "Putin's chef".

The Wagner Group has been accused of committing atrocities in Ukraine and was involved in the recent operation to capture the town of Soledar.

Yevgeny Prigozhin at a St Petersburg reception in 2016

The government confirmed it was conducting an internal review of the process after Labour was granted an urgent question in the Commons on Wednesday.

Shadow foreign secretary David Lammy said "the government appears to have granted a waiver for a warlord that enabled him to launch a legal attack on a British journalist".

He described Mr Prigozhin as "one the most dangerous and noxious members of Putin's inner circle" and said it would be "absolutely unconscionable" if the Treasury played a role in "alleviating pressure" on the Wagner Group.

Mr Lammy also pointed out that Mr Sunak was chancellor at the time the application was granted by the Treasury office.

Decisions on such waivers are made "on a costs basis", Mr Cartlidge said, and that it was up to the courts to decide on the "substantive merits of the case rather than the government".

He added: "However I can confirm that in light of recent cases and in relation to this question, the Treasury is now considering whether this approach is the right one and if changes can be made without the Treasury assuming unacceptable legal risks and ensuring that we adhere to the rule of law."

Mr Cartlidge defended the government's record on sanctions and said ministers were committed to cracking down on individuals who use "threatening tactics to silence free speech advocates who act in the public interest".

Dr Sue Hawley, executive director of the campaign group Spotlight on Corruption, said the exemptions used in this case could leave the UK's anti-Kremlin sanctions policy "so riddled with holes that it will be a laughing stock and it needs to be urgently reviewed".

A Treasury spokesperson declined to comment on the individual case, adding: "Everyone has a right to legal representation and the Office for Financial Sanctions Implementation grant licences to allow sanctioned people to cover their own legal fees, provided the costs are reasonable."

Roger Gherson, who founded the firm Discreet Law, told the Financial Times it had "at all times complied fully with their legal and professional obligations". The BBC has contacted them for further comment.


Related Articles

London Daily
Netanyahu Denounces World Court Ruling on Israeli Occupation
Adidas Drops Bella Hadid Over Controversy
Global Outage Caused by CrowdStrike Update Impacts Millions
Massive Flight Cancellations Across the U.S. Due to Microsoft Outage
Global Windows Outage Causes Chaos Across Banks, Airlines, and More
Russia Accuses Ukraine of Using Chemical Weapons
UK's Flawed COVID-19 Planning Exposed by Inquiry
Ursula von der Leyen Wins Second Term as European Commission President
Police Officer Injured in Attack in Central Paris
Hulk Hogan absolutely tore it up at the RNC.
Paris is being "cleansed" of migrants and homeless people ahead of the Olympics.
Lamine Yamal arriving at his school after winning the Euros
Campaigners Urge UK Government to Block Shein's London IPO
UK Labour Government's Legislative Agenda
UK Labour Government to Regulate Powerful AI Models
Record Heat Temperatures in Ukraine Amid Power Crisis
UK Government Plans to Remove 92 Hereditary Peers from House of Lords
King Charles III Delivers Labour Government's First King's Speech
Officials Remove 'Disastrous' Label from Liz Truss's Mini-Budget
Keir Starmer Outlines Ambitious Plans for Government
Japan to Allocate $3.3 Billion to Ukraine Using Frozen Russian Assets
EU Parliament Condemns Hungarian PM's Russia Visit
FBI Struggles to Find Motive Behind Trump Shooting Incident
Kremlin Criticizes EU Rejection of Orban’s Ukraine Peace Proposal
Google and Microsoft Now Consume More Power Than Several Large Countries
Secret Service Criticized for Lack of Sniper Protection During Trump Shooting
US Senator Robert Menendez Found Guilty of Corruption
Deep Concerns about Political Violence as US Approaches Election Day
Trump Media Shares Surge Following Re-Election Bid Boost
The gunman who attempted to assassinate Donald Trump Saturday is 20-year-old Thomas Matthew Crooks
Banksy's Influence on Port Talbot's Street Art Scene
Bodies of Two Men Found in Suitcases on Bristol Bridge, 24-Year-Old Arrested
Kate Middleton to Attend Wimbledon Men's Final Amid Cancer Recovery
Russia's Electronic Warfare Neutralizes Western Weapons in Ukraine
Trump Challenges Biden to Debate and Golf Match
Macron Accuses Israeli Minister of Election Interference
US Senator Highlights Weaknesses in Western Military Industry During Ukraine Conflict
George Clooney Urges Biden to Withdraw from Presidential Race
Political Shift in the UK: A Detailed Analysis of Labour's Victory and Future Prospects
Viktor Orbán's Peace Mission: A Diplomatic Controversy in the EU
India Advocates Peace and Prosperity: PM Modi's Speech in Austria
New UK PM Keir Starmer Reaffirms Strong Support for Ukraine at NATO Summit
Spain PM Pedro Sanchez Denounces Double Standards on Gaza at NATO Summit
UK Police Arrest Suspect in Crossbow Attack After Three Women Killed
Sunita Williams Safe on ISS, to Address Earth on July 10
Biden Affirms Commitment To Presidential Race
France Faces Political Turmoil and Airport Strikes Ahead of Paris Olympics 2024
Putin Hosts PM Modi for a Private Meeting
TSMC: The Taiwanese Chip Giant Valued Over $1 Trillion
Boeing Pleads Guilty Over 737 MAX Crashes