The UK’s numerous sanctions on Russian oligarchs have created difficulties for authorities handling their payment requests at supermarkets, florists, and yoga studios.

The UK's numerous sanctions on Russian oligarchs have created difficulties for authorities handling their payment requests at supermarkets, florists, and yoga studios.

Russian Oligarchs Struggle with UK Sanctions: A Burdensome Paperwork Process


The UK’s sanctions enforcement authority is currently dealing with an overwhelming number of license applications from Russian individuals, as reported by The Guardian. These individuals, who have been targeted by sanctions, are required to obtain permission even for their daily financial needs. Since the start of the Ukraine war in February 2022, the UK, alongside the US and Europe, has imposed broad sanctions against Russian oligarchs, individuals, and entities believed to be associated with the Kremlin. These measures aim to both penalize and restrict their financial support for the ongoing conflict.

The magnitude of the sanctions is staggering. As of October 2022, the UK has frozen a massive $18.4 billion British pounds (approximately $23.4 billion) worth of assets, jumping 400 times from the 44.5 million pounds frozen in 2021. Although the owners of these assets are unable to access them, they can apply for licenses to cover essential expenses like food, rent, and utilities. These license applications can be submitted to their respective banks, which can then release the funds for the intended purposes.

However, the restrictions are so all-encompassing that sanctioned Russian individuals living in the UK are forced to seek permission for even the most mundane expenditures. This has resulted in a significant upsurge in the number of license applications, increasing nearly 100 times, according to The Guardian.

Before the Ukraine war, the UK Treasury’s Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation (OFSI) received a mere 11 license applications related to Russian sanctions, approving nine of them. However, since the war started, the OFSI has been flooded with over 1,000 license requests and has only managed to approve 82. This exponential increase in paperwork has left the OFSI struggling to cope with the demand.

One unnamed sanctions lawyer described the difficulties faced by their clients, stating, “Every time my client went to Waitrose to buy food for the kids, I had to write to OFSI notifying them he’d breached sanctions and committed a criminal offense. If you were to comply with the law, you’d starve to death. The system is broken: they just cannot cope.” This illustrates the severe impact of the sanctions on individuals’ day-to-day lives, with even grocery shopping requiring bureaucratic hurdles.

To handle the overwhelming workload, the OFSI has significantly expanded its staff from 40 to over 140 employees since the war began, as reported by The Guardian. Nonetheless, the volume of license applications continues to strain their resources.

Interestingly, it appears that some of the sanctioned individuals are applying for licenses for every conceivable expense, further exacerbating the administrative burden on the OFSI. The Guardian quotes an unnamed lawyer representing several sanctioned individuals who advised against applying for licenses for trivial expenditures like florists or yoga lessons.

However, concerns have also been raised regarding the OFSI’s approach to approving licenses. Critics argue that the authority is being too lenient, even allowing substantial sums to be spent on legal fees. The news outlet highlights the need for stricter scrutiny and more rigorous evaluation of license applications.

In response to these criticisms, a UK government spokesperson assured The Guardian that these licenses are “strictly monitored, with a breach resulting in financial penalties or criminal prosecution.” The spokesperson emphasized that the applications are closely scrutinized, and rejections are not uncommon.

Given the complexity and scale of the sanctions regime, it is unsurprising that the UK Treasury did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Insider.

This situation reflects the challenging tightrope authorities must walk when balancing financial restrictions and humanitarian considerations. While the intention behind the sanctions is clear—to punish and limit financial support for the conflict—it is essential to ensure that the enforcement process does not inadvertently cause unnecessary hardships for individuals affected by these measures. Striking the right balance is a delicate task, with nuances that require careful attention.

Ultimately, as the conflict continues and tensions persist, it is crucial for both the UK government and the sanctioned individuals to find ways to navigate the existing bureaucracy, explore potential improvements, and ensure fair treatment for those impacted by these sanctions.

References: – The Guardian