After the Russian defector Alexander Litvinenko, who would endure a lingering death from drinking green tea laced with radioactive polonium in a London hotel, fled Moscow in 2000, he first applied for political asylum in the U.S.
He and his family had travelled to Ankara, the Turkish capital, and he had presented himself at the American embassy.
However, due to his dark past in the FSB, the Russian secret service, the Americans turned him down.
Alexander Litvinenko was told by a CIA agent when he was asking for asylum: ‘Why not try London?’ he was told. ‘The British will tolerate anyone'
But, as he left the embassy, a CIA agent offered him some advice. ‘Why not try London?’ he was told. ‘The British will tolerate anyone . . .’
Today, as the police and intelligence services investigate yet another possible assassination attempt on British soil, the consequences of the laissez faire attitude of successive governments to the flood of dirty money and unsavoury individuals from Russia (and elsewhere in the world) is writ large.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson made some bold statements in Parliament yesterday, but he and Home Secretary Amber Rudd will need to deliver more if it does transpire that ex-spy Colonel Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia are the victims of a sophisticated hit by Russian agents.
The Russians have made an indelible mark on London in particular, buying our newspapers, football teams and property in the most upmarket areas.
They shop at Harrods, keep Bond Street’s boutiques afloat, send their children to our best schools and provide endless work for lawyers, private equity fund managers, bankers and gossip columnists.
But, sometimes, to use Boris’s own words, Russia acts as a ‘malign and disruptive force’, too.
To understand how we have arrived at this point, we must look back to the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. As the newly created Russian Federation underwent a dramatic transition from a planned economy to a market economy, a vacuum was created that allowed criminality to thrive.
This was the era of gangster capitalism when Moscow and St Petersburg were a cross between a war zone and a permanent Bacchanalian orgy.
The Russians have made an indelible mark on London in particular, buying our newspapers, football teams and property in the most upmarket areas, writes Misha Glenny
A Canadian journalist encapsulated it perfectly when he wrote: ‘You would walk into a bar and see two prostitutes dancing naked on the counter, touting for business, and then you would walk outside to be greeted by a hail of bullets.’
As organised crime groups vied to control territory, the shrewder entrepreneurs were buying up state enterprises for a song.
Oil, aluminium, nickel, airlines, car factories, cement factories — all were privatised in a short space of time, and so the oligarchs emerged.
They knew Russian history and they realised that their fortunes could be lost as quickly as they had been made.
So they started sending money abroad to Cyprus, Zurich, New York — and London.
Suddenly, hundreds of billions of pounds were flowing into property markets, banks and investment portfolios.
And because London was a low-regulation jurisdiction, most of it went there.
An officer of the now-disbanded Serious Organised Crime Agency once told me that under the Blair Government, they had quite specifically been told not to concentrate their efforts on Russian money sloshing in and out of London.
Of course, the oligarchs followed their money eventually and, soon, it was clear that Britain was prepared to accept more or less anyone from Russia — provided they had enough cash. Today, there almost 450 Russian multi-millionaires in the country — in part because an investment of £1 million will get you a residence permit.
Some of them are the richest men and women in the world — and some have a past that has its obscure patches.
Three years ago, Deutsche Bank published a jaw-dropping report entitled Dark Matter which claimed that roughly £1.5 billion flowed into London under the radar every month.
Much of it came from Russia and was most likely from organised crime and tax evasion.
We have no idea of the property owned by Russians because the Government still allows anonymous companies from its overseas territories — tax havens — to buy property without revealing the beneficiary’s true identity.
More than 10,000 properties in the borough of Westminster alone are owned by anonymous companies.
Occasionally, some details emerge when Russians do battle in the British courts.
In an especially revealing case in October last year, the High Court Judge Mr Justice Birss ruled that oligarch Sergei Pugachev had been sheltering millions of pounds in ‘sham’ trusts.
Mr Pugachev, once known as the Kremlin’s banker, fled to the UK in 2011 when one of his banks collapsed and he fell out with Putin.
The Russian banking authorities accused him of having syphoned the money out of Russia illegally.
He used the ‘sham’ trusts to buy his children apartments in Chelsea and Battersea and a holiday home in the Caribbean.
And this is just one example among many.
Recently, security minister Ben Wallace said he was going after Russians who couldn’t prove where their money came from, using new investigative powers known as Unexplained Wealth Orders.
This is a major step forward, but, until ministers force companies to reveal who really owns them, London will remain a money-laundering playground for gangsters and oligarchs from around the world.