THE threat was made when Vladimir Putin sent his poisoners to England. And again when he moved his tanks to the borders of Ukraine.

Behave, Britain’s leaders keep warning Russia’s, or we will stop you washing your dirty money here.

That, at least, is one way of summing up successive flurries of official UK rhetoric – if not action – as and when the Kremlin gets up to no good.

So far Tory ministers have done next to nothing to shut down Britain’s laundromat, including its shamefully and disproportionately large Scottish branch. That might be about to change. As I write there is talk of various new initiatives to hit Mr Putin and his cronies in the pocket. Good; fingers crossed that they are meaningful. The devil, as always, will be in the detail.

Weary anti-corruption campaigners will welcome moves, almost any moves, to stop the UK helping gangsters, spivs and bent officials to hide their loot.

READ MORE: Make corruption a real issue

Even if it is frustrating that British ministers waited till they heard the drums of war before acting. Or talking about acting.

Yet there is still a problem with the way the UK – across politics – speaks about moves to tackle dirty money. Why? Because it is framed as a way to punish Russia.

The British should, instead, be pitching anti-laundering measures as a way to help ordinary Russians, to protect them from the people robbing them, including in their own government.

Cracking down on dirty money is not so much a sanction as an act of aid, of support, of friendship. And not just for Russia.

Ukraine has also been looted over the last few decades, including by politically exposed persons linked to successive governments, whether they leaned to the EU, or to the Kremlin.

Really want to help the country as it lives with the ever-present threat of another invasion? Then stop helping crooks bleed it dry.

Corruption – sometimes enabled in the UK – has weakened Ukraine’s defences.

Britain has been sending the country anti-tank missiles, in the hope this helps to deter a bloody onslaught.

READ MORE: British dirty money paradise

We have also been supplying shells, shell firms, that is. Anonymously or opaquely owned UK companies and partnerships, especially Scottish ones, are ubiquitous in Ukraine. They have proved popular with dishonest arms officials.

Some years ago, for example, this newspaper reported how one particular Scottish limited partnership, Britain’s most abused secrecy vehicle, was used to skim a fortune off the export of Ukrainian fighter jet ammo to the Middle East.

Apart from anything else, said colleagues in Kiev, this was a story about how big bullets for plane cannons were being shipped abroad when, as horrible as this might sound, they might be needed at home.

The British state has won friends in Ukraine. Does it deserve the kudos? I am not sure. I suspect any support, military, diplomatic and economic, is cancelled out by our indulgence of Ukrainian spivery and our enabling of corruption.

The UK’s laissez-faire attitude to financial and corporate regulation is not just a problem for countries we smugly think of as graft-ridden. Because, oh boy, do we have some grifters too.

Are we really going to keep pretending that the Brits – including Scots – who are washing dirty money from, say, Russia or Ukraine, are not corrupt? Of course they are. They are just as filthy as the cash they take.

There are lots of people in England and Scotland who like to think of themselves as global goodies, who take offence when our record as the enablers of illicit finance is highlighted.

Online-grade Scottish nationalists, as an example, condemn stories about our shell firm industry as “talking Scotland down”. There have been single laundering operations run through Scottish firms that have flushed more dirty money than the value of the entire annual exports of whisky. We are not bit players in this game.

The mundane, unhappy reality is that we have outright crooks and a fair number of white-collar professionals happy not to look too closely at where money comes from.

These “enablers” here, and in England, are a threat to the UK and to the wider world. They corrode our democracy and distort our markets. And they are laced through our society.

There are company formation specialists, corporate lawyers and accountants who provide financial services to oligarchs, gangsters and corrupt politicians. They rarely think of themselves as bent. But that is what they are, ethically if not legally.

But there are also a host of others who remain in denial about their role in what writer Oliver Bullough in a new book describes as Britain’s role as “Butler to the World”.

Think of PR professionals, or libel lawyers. It is not just money that is being laundered in the UK; it is reputations. Are you representing the interests of an oligarch in, say, the Putin circle? Taking his (or, very rarely, her) cash? Think you are clean? Pfft.

Or what of the estate agents or private schools being paid through offshore accounts? This week Transparency International, the anti-corruption campaign, said it reckoned £1.5 billion worth of UK property was owned by Russians either accused of corruption or close to the Kremlin. That is it a lot of “commish” for realtors, especially in London.

Legislation is overdue. Regulation needs beefed up; law enforcement too. But we, above all, have a business and professional ethics crisis on our hands. Every time you see a PR or a lawyer or an accountant help an oligarch or foreign crook, ask yourself this: what else is he or she prepared to do? Because it won't be pretty.

With Mr Putin’s armies on the march – whether as a show of force or a prelude to war – a lot of the attention is going to Russia. But our Butler to the World business is a British problem, not a Russian one.

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