THE BLOG

Is the UK Helping Russia Win the Gold Medal for Corruption?

07/02/2014 16:54 GMT | Updated 09/04/2014 10:59 BST

Whatever plans Mr Putin had for the Sochi Olympics, it is unlikely he had wanted a PR disaster. Yet the combination of terrorism, homophobic laws and corruption has brought nothing but negative headlines over the past few weeks.

In relation to corruption, Russia has already won the gold medal - and is probably the all-time winner. I will not rehearse here the endless litany of allegations - they are well captured elsewhere, including on the website of the perennial thorn in Mr Putin's side, Alexi Navalny. The head of Transparency International in Russia, Elena Panfilova, spoke in the British parliament about this earlier this week.

Here are three things of great concern:

1. The sheer shamelessness

Corruption on this scale is breath-taking, but not unusual in Russia. Its huge natural resources provide splendid opportunities for plunder. The fact that it has been permitted at the Sochi Olympics, when it is obvious that the eyes of the world would be watching, is the concern. Russia's corruption problem is the world's problem, because Russia, with a UN veto, G8 membership and lots of money, is an influential player in the world. Yet it ranks as number 127 out of 177 on the Corruption Perceptions Index, a shamefully poor performance for a G8 country. Despite this, Russia is part of a body of countries that we turn to in order to help create, enforce and safeguard international laws on corruption. Sochi demonstrates that the Russian government is not merely out of line with that international endeavour, but willing to flaunt its values to the contrary.

2. How long courage can endure

Perhaps the most unintentionally laugh out-loud funny remark on corruption at Sochi was Mr Putin's statement '"If anybody has got this information, please show this to us. But so far we haven't seen anything except speculation." Well, Mr Putin, might that have anything to do with the fact that journalists who speak out against your regime are murdered, and that you have passed laws to close down independent NGOs like Transparency International? Not to mention the fact that evidence has previously been presented but ignored. The citizens of Russia have shown immense courage in the face of the corruption that blights their daily lives and the long-term development of their country. But the corrupt have a huge stake in keeping themselves in power whatever the cost to the citizens they were 'elected' to serve. Russian courage is legendary and Russia's dissidents are respected the world over; but I wonder how long they can endure in the face of their government's onslaught.

3. The complicity of the UK

How much of Sochi's $51billion budget was misappropriated by corruption? We will probably never know, but let us assume it was half - that is to say $25billion - remembering that the original budget was $12billion. Certainly enough to be recognisable when flowing through the global financial system. How much of this has found its way to the UK or its overseas territories? Of course, we do not know. Transparency International's recent paper Closing Down the Safe Havens explains why we don't know. What we do know is that London is the favoured destination of so many wealthy Russians, and that Britain's offshore tax havens such as the British Virgin Islands continue to make it very easy to hide corrupt money. I wonder how many banks, law firms and accountants in the City have a list of those involved in the Sochi Olympics and rigorously check the origin of their funds?

A final thought is this. The Olympic Games are meant to embody the Olympic Spirit. However spectacular the sporting endeavours we see at Sochi, they will not erase the stain on the Olympic movement that has been left by corruption at Sochi. In a perfect world, the International Olympic Committee would be willing to say so.