Hot on the heels of the London market being told to cease insuring a range of Russian risks, UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, has praised insurers and investors who have turned their back on Russia.
However, the praise has come with a warning to who have yet to do so to cease any investment.
Speaking yesterday Sunak praised commitments from firms such as BP, Shell, Aviva, M&G and Vanguard, who have publicly stated they are to reduce or sell holdings in Russia.
“I welcome commitments already made by a number of firms to divest from Russian assets, and I want to make it crystal clear that the government supports further signals of intent,” he said. “I am urging firms to think very carefully about their investments in Russia and how they may aid the Putin regime, and I am also clear that there is no case for new investment in Russia.
“We must collectively go further in our mission to inflict maximum economic pain and to stop further bloodshed.”
The Chancellor and Economic Secretary met with asset managers and owners last week to discuss UK investment in Russia and said they welcomed the consensus on “the need to economically isolate Putin and his regime”.
Sunak added: “The government recognises that some firms may find winding down their positions is a long-term process, given market conditions and the ability to sell assets due to the global sanctions placed on the Russian economy.”
However, the Chancellor added he has been clear about the value of the strong signal of intent made by many firms to date and said the government would do all it could to stand behind and support businesses who want to divest.
Responding to the statement the Financial Conduct Authority said it had issued guidance to its regulated firms on what was expected.
“Regulated firms have already taken steps to avoid new investment in the Russian economy,” it said. “Many asset managers and pension providers have written down any Russian assets already held by the fund or scheme to zero, and some have announced that they are intending to divest themselves of such assets when it is practical to do so. Major index providers have taken steps to remove Russian securities from their equity and bond indices.”
The FCA added: “There are currently significant practical challenges in terms of disposing of Russian assets. When it is possible to sell such investments, firms should ensure that they meet requirements on entities that are subject to sanctions or connected to sanctioned entities.”
In its guidance to companies the FCA said it expected firms to have established systems and controls to counter the risk that they might be used to further financial crime and this includes compliance with financial sanctions obligations.
“Where the FCA identifies failings in financial crime systems and controls we can impose restrictions and/or take enforcement action,” it warned. “Additionally, the Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation (OFSI) has the power to levy civil monetary penalties for breaches of financial sanctions and works with law enforcement for the most egregious cases where criminal prosecution may be considered.
“Firms should screen against the UK Sanctions List to meet these new sanctions measures and screen against the OFSI list of asset freeze targets for financial sanctions obligations.
“You are legally obliged to report to OFSI if you know or suspect that a breach of financial sanctions has occurred; if a person you are dealing with, directly or indirectly is a designated person; if you hold any frozen assets, if knowledge or suspicion of these come to you while conducting your business. You must contact OFSI at the earliest opportunity, and you should also notify the FCA.”