Sunday

17th Jan 2021

Stolen Russian billions ended up in EU states

  • Treija: “Obviously it was money either stolen or with criminal origin.” (Photo: Kelly)

Illicit money flowing out of Russia via Moldova and Latvia ended up in almost every single EU state, an investigation has found, posing questions on the integrity of Europe’s banking systems.

Beneficiaries in Estonia received $1.6 billion out of a total of some $20 billion uncovered in the money trail by journalists in the OCCRP, a club of investigative reporters in eastern Europe, and Novaya Gazeta, one of the few independent media in Russia.

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Some $900 million of the funds ended up in Cyprus, $78 million in Lithuania, $68 million in the Netherlands, $64 million in Germany, and $44 million in Denmark, according to bank statements provided by whistleblowers who asked to remain anonymous.

People in the Czech Republic ($38mn), Italy ($32mn), the UK ($29mn), Finland ($26mn), Hungary ($25mn), Slovenia ($15mn), Poland ($10mn), Luxembourg ($6mn), France ($6mn), Austria ($5mn), Belgium ($5mn), Slovakia ($5mn), and Spain ($4mn) also received funds.

Smaller sums ended up in Malta, Sweden, Greece, Bulgaria, Ireland, and Croatia.

“Obviously it was money either stolen or with criminal origin”, Maija Treija, the deputy director of Latvia’s finance ministry, which is investigating the scheme, told the OCCRP.

Most of the funds flowed out of 19 Russian banks, one of which, Russian Land Bank, boasted Russian president Vladimir Putin’s cousin, Igor Putin, as a board member.

It went via Moldova’s Moldindconbank, then into Latvia’s now defunct Trasta Komercbanka, before fanning out into dozens of banks worldwide, 17 of which were based in the UK or had branches there.

The UK banks involved in the scheme, which operated between 2010 and 2014, were some of the country’s largest and most prestigious.

The list involves HSBC, the Royal Bank of Scotland, Lloyds, Barclays, and Coutts. Deutsche Bank in Germany and Danske Bank in Denmark were also named.

The real owners of the funds were hidden behind at least 21 shell firms, most of which were based either in the UK or in Cyprus.

At the other end, the money was spent on furs, jewellery, designer homeware, private school fees, rock concerts, and real estate.

Amid EU concern over secret Russian funding for anti-EU political parties and groups, the OCCRP said some of the funds ended up with The Zmiana, a pro-Russia fringe party in Poland run by Mateusz Piskorski, an activist and academic who was detained on espionage charges last year.

Tuesday’s OCCRP report comes after US and UK authorities fined Germany’s Deutsche Bank in January for laundering more than $10 billion of illicit Russian money between 2011 and 2015.

Bill Browder, a British businessman, also uncovered an illicit Russian money trail in Europe worth some $230 million following the death in prison in Russia of his whistleblower accountant, Sergei Magnitsky, in 2009.

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