Utilising a recently-activated global anti-corruption regime, the UK government has designated personal and targeted sanctions against 22 individuals involved in serious corruption in Russia, Latin America, South Sudan and South Africa. These inaugural designations under the Global Anti-Corruption Sanctions Regulations 2021 herald the first use of another weapon in the anti-corruption armoury of the UK.
The Regulations were made under the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018. This created a sanctions regime to be used for the purpose of preventing and combatting serious corruption. The Regulations only entered into force on 26 April 2021 and on the same day the Foreign Secretary announced the first designations which include the freezing of assets and travel bans on various individuals.
Interestingly the sanctioned individuals comprise a real mixture of people involved in both business and governments. As with the Bribery Act 2010 itself, the UK has moved away from bribery being solely an issue of the misuse of state funds and holding Politically-Exposed Persons to account.
The targeted nature of the sanctions - made as they are against individuals rather than entire countries - provides additional flexibility and precision in the UK's response to international corruption. It also avoids a key criticism made of sanctions against entire government or nations; that the sanctions, in reality, harm the local populace more than those at fault.
It will be fascinating to see both how quickly further such sanctions are rolled out and whether any of the individuals so sanctioned will look to challenge their designation, either by requesting a Minister to look at the matter again or applying to court. The government has said that more designations will "follow in due course" so we are bound to see some challenges in the months and years ahead.
Finally, this development looks to be a clear recognition that the UK's financial system and its investor-friendly stance can, as the Foreign Secretary himself said in his statement to Parliament, "make us a honeypot, a lightning rod for corrupt actors who seek to launder their dirty money through British banks or through businesses". It remains to be seen if these new sanctions can reduce the attractiveness of the City of London to those international actors committed to bribery, corruption and extortion.
As with our Global Human Rights sanctions approach, the anti-corruption sanctions are not intended to target whole countries or whole peoples, but rather to target the individuals who are responsible, and should be held responsible, for graft and the cronies who support or benefit from their corrupt acts.