UK seizes private jet with suspected links to Russia

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Photograph: yoh4nn/Getty ImagesA private plane with suspected links to Russia has been impounded in Hampshire, after aviation sanctions came into force designed to target the assets of those close to Vladimir Putin.

The aircraft is registered in Luxembourg, but the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, suggested he was concerned it could be passed on by a Russian oligarch when it left the UK, so checks were being carried out.

He told LBC radio on Wednesday: “We know that it isn’t a Russian company that holds the aircraft, it’s rather a Luxembourg-registered aircraft

“We are carrying out further checks before releasing it and what we won’t do is allow any Russian oligarchs to pass on that jet when it does eventually go.”

Russian airlines and private jets have already been banned from landing in the UK.

But overnight the Foreign Office and Department for Transport announced new powers would make it a criminal offence for any Russian aircraft to fly or land in the UK.

The ban includes any aircraft owned, operated or chartered by anyone connected with Russia or designated individuals or entities on the sanctions list.

It also allows the government to detain any aircraft owned by persons connected with Russia.

The Foreign Office said the new sanctions would also prevent aviation and aerospace-related exports – including insurance and re-insurance through UK-based insurers or reinsurers. This means the withdrawal of UK insurance cover on existing policies in the two sectors and a ban on payouts for claims on existing policies.

Shapps also revealed there had been just 760 visas issued to Ukrainians with family ties to Britain who wanted to join them. About 22,000 people have so far applied to come to the UK in an effort to flee the Russian invasion, he added.

The minister said the details about the siege of Ukrainian cities by Russian forces were “pure evil” and heartbreaking, but defended Britain taking about a third the number of Ukrainian refugees as Ireland.

Shapps said the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, had voiced hopes that those forced to leave Ukraine would move to neighbouring countries so they could come back to help rebuild after the war.

Shapps also said the Uk government wanted to speed up visa processing and “make these things as unbureaucratic as possible”, but added that it was important security checks were carried out on those seeking to come to the UK.

“I think you would expect us to be wanting to check people’s status before they come in,” he said. “We know that Russia are involved in all manner of operations so it’s absolutely right to check that somebody is coming from Ukraine and know who is coming to this country, essentially, and that’s what we are doing.”

Shapps said the decision not to have a visa application centre in Calais was to avoid Ukrainians becoming the target of people smugglers who operated around the Channel port.

He sidestepped questions about the claim by another Conservative MP that the home secretary, Priti Patel, had misled parliamentwhen she said a processing centre “en route” to Calais would be set up and that staff were “on the ground” there.

“I do know that in Lille there is a centre being set up. I do also know that because of the nature of the situation in Calais – the long-term issues there of criminal gangs bringing people across – we are very keen to separate these two issues,” Shapps said.

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