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20th Sep 2018

Interview

Navalny to EU: Stop Russian criminals using your banks

  • Navalny: 'There is a big difference between business co-operation and giving wide opportunities for money laundering' (Photo: Person Behind the Scenes)

On the eve of a likely jail sentence, Russian activist Alexei Navalny has urged the EU to enforce its own laws in order to help Russian people fight corruption.

Navalny, a 37-year-old lawyer, has in the past three years become a thorn in the side of Russia's elite by publishing evidence of high-level corruption on his website, navalny.ru.

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On Tuesday (16 July), he, and his group of other young jurists, unveiled the secret business empire of Vladimir Yakunin, a government official who runs Russian Railways, the country's state-owned train operator.

According to their information, Russian Railways has channelled millions upon millions of taxpayers' money into businesses owned by Yakunin's wife and two sons.

The businesses include hotel chains, blocks of flats and marine ports.

But the Yakunin connection is hidden behind layers of offshore firms, dozens of which are registered in EU member state Cyprus.

Navalny published the information, obtained by trawling open sources, such as company registries, on Tuesday because he fears he will be jailed on Thursday.

Russian prosecutors have asked for a six-year sentence on charges he embezzled €380,000 worth of timber in a transaction in 2009.

EU diplomats, who are following the proceedings, say privately the trial is a sham.

But the judge who will rule on Navalny's fate at the end of the week has never issued a not-guilty verdict in his career.

Navalny told EUobserver by email from Moscow on Tuesday that the EU's frequent statements on lack of rule of law in Russia "are, of course, a good thing."

But he is "sceptical" they will prompt change.

Instead, he urged EU authorities to help Russian people by enforcing rule of law in EU member states.

Or, in other words, by stopping Russian criminals from using European banks and offshore structures to conceal their ill-gotten gains.

Noting that the EU's joint police body, Europol, the European Commission and six EU countries are now investigating a money laundering trail linked to the death of Russian whistleblower-auditor Sergei Magnitsky, Navalny said: "This work is fundamentally important."

He added: "Stolen money was smuggled outside my country and re-invested in Europe … If the commission and Europol do their job properly, it will create an extremely important precedent."

He said the EU should go further, by creating new legal obligations for sensitive Russian investments.

"The best strategy would be an additional anti-corruption regulation on European-Russian projects, primarily ones to do with energy … Projects implemented by major Russian corporations should be subject to independent anti-corruption checks similar to environmental impact assessments, which are carried out on pipeline projects," he explained.

He said he "fully approves" of EU and Russian companies doing business together.

But he added: "There is a big difference between business co-operation and giving wide opportunities for money laundering and investment of criminal funds in the EU."

If Russia jails him, there is a real risk he could come to harm.

Magnitsky, back in 2008, went into prison a healthy man.

He died in his cell 11 months later - also at the age of 37 - after contracting pancreatitis and after being beaten with rubber batons on the day of his death.

"Detention centres in Russia are places of absolute arbitrariness. Situations similar to the Magnitsky case are widespread, not to say typical," Navalny told this website.

His fellow activists do not believe that EU statements will keep him safe.

"We just want them [EU officials] to click on the website, to read our information and to do something about it. We can give them all the documents, fully certified, with legal translations," a Navalny associate, who asked to not to be named, said.

"This is our only option. We have no options in Russia," the contact added.

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