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Wagner Group ‘has rape and murder at its heart’

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Vladimir Putin’s notorious Russian mercenary army, the Wagner Group, has “terror, torture, murder, rape and all other forms of brutality at the heart of its activities” and must be ruled an illegal organisation by the UK Government, ministers have been told. The Government has faced fresh demands in Parliament to proscribe the “wretched” organisation, which would make it a criminal offence to belong to, support or assist the organisation.

The calls came as the Treasury found itself at the centre of controversy over reports it helped the organisation’s boss Yevgeny Prigozhin circumvent UK sanctions to take a British journalist to court.

Questioned about the case in the Lords, Treasury minister Baroness Penn said: “The Government condemn the use of strategic lawsuits against public participation, commonly known as Slapps.

“The Prigozhin case can be characterised as a Slapp, which is an abuse of the UK legal system.

“We are committed to introducing targeted anti-Slapp legislation to stop Russian oligarchs corrupting our legal system.

“The reforms will include a statutory definition of Slapps, an early dismissal mechanism and costs protection for Slapps cases.”

Baroness Penn added: “When it comes to the sanctions and licensing regimes, where there are derogations set out in the sanctions regime and the conditions of those derogations have been met, licences may be authorised.

“There is a specific derogation for legal expenses which is judged on the cost of those expenses, not the merits of any legal case.”

Lady Penn added: “Nonetheless, we need to take action in these cases, and the Government are committed to doing so.”

Liberal Democrat Lord Purvis of Tweed said he had pressed repeatedly for the proscription of the Wagner Group.

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He said: “It is an outrage that a licence from the Treasury has allowed this group to launder money through the English legal system on palpably malicious legal activities.

“As the minister has just said, it is an abuse of the system.

“Why are the Government procrastinating on national security grounds? This group is a threat to our security and our safety, to British nationals abroad and to our allies. Why is this group not being proscribed?”

The minister said: “In this case, we are talking about a designated person and the derogations under the sanctions regime allow for legal fees. That is clearly provided for within the sanctions regime.”

Lady Penn she would have to write to him on the matter of proscription.

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Former chief of the defence staff and independent crossbencher Lord Stirrup said: “Russia’s war in Ukraine is being spearheaded by a mercenary organisation which has terror, torture, murder, rape and all other forms of brutality at the heart of its activities.

“Does the minister agree that, quite aside from the illegality of Russia’s actions in Ukraine, we should be doing all we can to ensure that such a group is unable to operate anywhere in what we would refer to as our civilised world, and that we have made a less than glorious start in this regard?”

Lady Penn said: “I know we have had the basis to sanction the group under the Russian sanction regime. I am sure we are looking at all the tools we have available to us to take further action.”

Tory peer Lord Cormack said that “proscription is the only answer”.

He said: “Lord Stirrup has given a graphic brief description of the evil that is being perpetrated. We should not be dilly-dallying. We should get on with it and proscribe the wretched organisation.”

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