The UK government helped Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of PMC Wagner, to circumvent the country’s sanctions and sue British journalist and Bellingcat founder Eliot Higgins, openDemocracy media outlet reports.
The libel suit against Eliot Higgins followed revelations by Bellingcat about PMC Wagner’s shadowy operations, and was part of Prigozhin’s strategy to undermine the sanctions against him.
The investigation revealed that in 2021, the UK Treasury issued special licences to British law firm Discreet Law, thus helping Prigozhin evade sanctions and launch an aggressive legal campaign against the reporter in London courts.
The sanctions introduced by the UK government against Prigozhin in 2020 banned him from coming to London. Nevertheless, the UK government allowed Discreet Law attorneys visit St. Petersburg to meet with Prigozhin’s lawyers from the Capital Legal Services law firm.
In September 2021, Prigozhin transferred money to the UK attorneys from Russia’s Sberbank to HSBC, however, the transfer to NatWest bank was denied due to sanctions. However, by October, HSBC “had apparently been persuaded of the legality of the transfer”, and the payment landed in Discreet Law’s UK account.
However, the case collapsed following the start of the invasion of Ukraine: in March 2022, Discreet Law attorneys refused to work with Prigozhin further, and the case proceedings were halted in May.
“It lays bare the incredible ease with which one of the world’s most notorious warmongers was able to use the UK legal system to try and further his aims, even while sanctioned,” the authors of the investigation concluded.