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Britain unveils new ‘Economic Crime Bill’ to punish oligarchs with links with Russian leader Putin

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… UK new rule target 7 oligarchs worth £15 bln

…Abramovich planned sales of Chelsea FC in jeopardy

The United Kingdom on Thursday unveiled brutal new sanctions which will lead to the frozen of the assets of seven Oligarchs who are considered have a link with the Russian leader, Valadim Putin.

Roman Abramovich is among seven oligarchs to be hit with an asset freeze and travel bans under brutal new sanctions.

The government has announced that the owner of Chelsea FC will also be prohibited from transactions with UK individuals and businesses – meaning his plan to sell the club looks impossible.

Abramovich’s one time business partner, Oleg Deripaska, has been hit with the same measures – as have Rosneft chief Igor Sechin and four more described as being in Putin’s ‘inner circle’.

The Foreign Office said the Economic Crime Bill coming into force next week “will allow UK Government to move further and faster than ever on sanctions.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “There can be no safe havens for those who have supported Putin’s vicious assault on Ukraine.

“Today’s sanctions are the latest step in the UK’s unwavering support for the Ukrainian people. We will be ruthless in pursuing those who enable the killing of civilians, destruction of hospitals and illegal occupation of sovereign allies.”

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss added: “Today’s sanctions show once again that oligarchs and kleptocrats have no place in our economy or society. With their close links to Putin they are complicit in his aggression.

“The blood of the Ukrainian people is on their hands. They should hang their heads in shame.

“Our support for Ukraine will not waver. We will not stop in this mission to ramp up the pressure on the Putin regime and choke off funds to his brutal war machine.”

The Foreign Office said the oligarchs have a collective net worth of around £15 billion.

Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries tweeted that Chelsea FC will be able to operate under a ‘special licence’.

The team will be able to play fixtures and pay staff, but only ‘existing ticket holders’ will be able to attend.

It appears that means only season ticket holder, and away fans will not be permitted.

There is also the prospect that Champions League games will be played effectively behind closed doors, as those tickets are often purchased separately from season tickets.

Ms Dorries said the aim was to ensure that Abramovich cannot ‘benefit from his ownership of the club’.

The surprise move came as Defence minister James Heappey insisted the bombing of a maternity hospital in Ukraine was a war crime and called for Putin and Russian generals to be held to account.

Heappey stressed that the West is gathering evidence that can be used in a future prosecution, but said in a round of interviews: “What you see on your TV screens is a war crime.”

The comments came as it was confirmed three people, including a child, died when warplanes bombed the hospital in beseiged Mariupol as pregnant women gave birth in the basement.

President Volodymyr Zelensky has described the attack as an ‘atrocity’ and ‘the ultimate proof of genocide against Ukrainians’.

The hospital, in the besieged city of Mariupol, was hit ‘several times’ by high-explosive Russian bombs – one of which missed the building by yards and left a crater two-stories deep, officials said. Other bombs scored ‘direct hits’, President Zelensky said, wounding at least 17 people.

Olha Stefanishyna, Ukraine’s deputy Prime Minister, said there can be ‘no doubt’ the hospital was deliberately ‘targeted’ by Russia in a chilling echo tactics used during the bombing of the Syrian city of Aleppo while Putin’s men were fighting alongside dictator Basahr al-Assad’s troops. Moscow denies targeting civilian facilities.

Heappey told Sky News this morning: “What you see on your TV screens is a war crime.

“Clearly there is evidence to be gathered in which to prove it is a war crime, and Western countries are working together to make sure that evidence is gathered in the best way so people can be held to account.

“What Putin is doing is not a war waged between two militaries. Right now he has besieged a number of Ukrainian cities and he has waged a war against Ukrainian civilians.”

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He added on BBC Breakfast: “We ask ourselves the question how did this happen? Was it an indiscriminate use of artillery or missiles into a built-up area, or was a hospital explicitly targeted?

“Both are equally despicable, both, as the Ukrainians have pointed out, would amount to a war crime.

“So, what matters beyond the outrage of the fact that this has happened in the first place is to make sure all this is catalogued so when – and they surely will be – President Putin and everybody in the military chain of command beneath him – because war crimes are committed at every level not just the ultimate decisionmaker – people will be held to account for what they are doing in. It’s utterly despicable.”

Pressed on whether he thinks the attack constitutes a war crime, he replied: “Yes, if you deliberately target a piece of civilian infrastructure like a hospital, yes.

“If you use indiscriminate artillery into an urban area without due regard for the reality, you could hit a protected site like a hospital, then that too in my view is.”

Many of the pregnant women present at the hospital were hiding in the basement at the time of the strike on the orders of hospital authorities – a move indicative of the harsh bombardment suffered by Mariupol’s citizens over the past week, and one which likely saved their lives.

Zelensky himself posted a video showing the badly damaged hospital buildings, filmed inside a destroyed ward room with its windows blown out and ceiling partially collapsed. More footage showed a car park covered in rubble and the smouldering wrecks of vehicles as injured families staggered into the freezing air while snow fell.

“Direct strike of Russian troops at the maternity hospital. People, children are under the wreckage. Atrocity! How much longer will the world be an accomplice ignoring terror? Close the sky right now! Stop the killings! You have power but you seem to be losing humanity,” the President tweeted.

He then took to Telegram, where he released a video statement from the presidential palace in Kyiv in which he said the hospital strike “is the ultimate proof that what is happening is the genocide of Ukrainians.”

“Europeans, you can’t say you didn’t see what is happening. You have to tighten the sanctions until Russia can’t continue their savage war,” he said.

“What kind of country bombs hospitals? Is afraid of hospitals? Of a maternity ward?

“Was someone insulting Russians? Were pregnant women shooting in direction of Rostov? Was it the ”denazification” of a hospital? What the Russians did at Mariupol was beyond savagery.”

In a separate interview with Sky News, Zelensky added that Russian invaders want Ukrainians ‘to feel like animals’ by preventing them from accessing food or water, and implored NATO and the West to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine.

“They want us to feel like animals because they blocked our cities… because they don’t want our people to get some food or water.

“Don’t wait for me to ask you several times, a million times, to close the sky. You have to phone us, to our people who lost their children, and say ”sorry we didn’t do it yesterday.”

Boris Johnson has condemned the strike as ‘depraved’ and vowed to step up support to the beleaguered Ukrainian military.

“There are few things more depraved than targeting the vulnerable and defenceless,’ the Prime Minister declared.

“The UK is exploring more support for Ukraine to defend against airstrikes and we will hold Putin to account for his terrible crimes,” he added.

Johnson later on Wednesday committed to enacting the ‘maximum economic cost’ on Russia in wake of the bombing, while Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is expected to say aggression like Vladimir Putin’s must ‘never again’ be allowed to ‘grow unchecked’ in her speech tomorrow in Washington.

Ms Truss will make comparisons between the Russian president’s actions and the World Trade Centre terror attack in 2001, and will urge the international community to change its approach to dealing with antagonistic world leaders.

The White House press secretary Jen Psaki also commented: ‘As a mother – I know a number of you are mothers – it is horrifying to see the barbaric use of military force to go after innocent civilians in a sovereign country.’

Mariupol’s city council said the hospital had suffered ‘colossal’ damage but did not immediately give a figure of the wounded and dead.

The deputy head of Mr Zelensky’s office, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, said authorities are trying to establish the number of victims.

Ukrainian MP Dmitry Gurin told the BBC: “There are a lot of dead and wounded women. We don’t know about children or newborns yet.”

Video footage from the aftermath of the attack showed that large parts of the hospital had completely collapsed, while blood soaked mattresses were pictured lying in hallways.

‘Russia committed a huge crime,’ said Volodymir Nikulin, a top regional police official, standing in the ruins. ‘It is a war crime without any justification.’

Mariupol has been under heavy Russian bombardment for more than a week, with food, water and electricity cut off several days ago – with the Red Cross describing conditions there as ‘apocalyptic’.

The head of the Ukrainian Red Cross said Wenesday’s strike will likely cause a complete collapse of paediatric care in Mariupol, as much of the hospital’s equipment and the paediatric care wards were reduced to ashes.

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