Tuesday

18th Feb 2020

Investigation

Cyprus launches probe into Russian mafia money

Cyprus has opened an investigation into evidence that stolen Russian tax money linked to the murder of Sergei Magnitsky was laundered through its banks.

Mokas, its anti-money-laundering unit, in an email to EUobserver on Thursday (13 December), said: "At this point ... in Cyprus there is an open investigation on this matter." It noted: "Mokas is conducting the investigation, which functions within the office of the attorney general."

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or join as a group

  • Hermitage has has flight records showing visits to Cyprus by the Klyuev gang at key moments in the scam (Photo: Hermitage Capital)

It added that the probe already began some time ago.

But it went ahead with some reluctance.

Magnitsky, a 37-year-old Russian accountant, was killed in jail in 2009 after he exposed a huge tax embezzlement by a criminal gang - "the Klyuev group" - involving high ranking officials in the Russian interior ministry and its internal intelligence service, the FSB.

Lawyers for his former employer, the UK-based Hermitage Capital investment fund, submitted evidence to Cyprus' attorney general in July.

Its papers, including copies of financial transfers - seen by this website - show that $31 million of the tax money was moved out of Russia using five Cypriot banks: Alpha Bank, Cyprus Popular Bank, FBME Bank, Privatbank International and Komercbanka.

They also show that Dmitry Klyuev, the alleged ringleader, owns a Cypriot-based firm called Fungamico, has an account at the Bank of Cyprus and visited Cyprus with his associates at the time the money went missing.

But Cyprus in October said it must check with Moscow to see if the money was really stolen before it could move ahead.

The Magnitsky probe is unwelcome on many fronts.

No-questions-asked banking services for Russian clients are an important source of income for Cyprus, where Russians have stashed up to $26 billion, according to the German intelligence service, the BND.

The Magnitsky case also raises the question if Cyprus is a fit place for EU taxpayers to insert €11 billion of bailout money, in a deal currently in discussion with EU institutions and the International Monetary Fund.

Nikos Christodoulides, a Cypriot EU presidency spokesman, told EUobserver that even if the Russian mafia did use its banks "it does not mean there are problems with all the other [Russian] accounts."

He added that "the two issues [the bailout and money-laundering] are not related at all."

Another Cypriot spokesman, Costas Yennaris, added: "They [EU lenders] have focused more on the management of the banks than on the content of their work [in the bailout talks]."

For some European politicians, the issues should be linked.

Dominic Raab, a British Conservative Party MP, is one of four national parliamentarians - also from Finland, Germany and the Netherlands - who have urged their administrations to look into the matter.

"Britain should make every effort to ensure that its ... funds are not being used to bail out any country that cannot or will not prevent its financial system from being misused by the Russian mafia," Raab wrote to British finance minister George Osborne on 21 November.

Meanwhile, the news the EU presidency country has promised to lift the lid on Magnitsky comes at a tricky moment in EU-Russia diplomacy.

Russian leader Vladimir Putin is in Brussels on 21 December for an EU-Russia summit.

Magnitsky was already in the air because US lawmakers on 6 December passed a law forcing the state department to put a visa ban and asset freeze on Russian officials implicated in the affair.

If US President Barack Obama signs the bill in the coming days, as expected, it is likely to trigger Russian retaliation and to put extra pressure on the EU to do something as well.

For its part, the EU foreign service shows no sign of using its powers to propose EU-level sanctions, however.

Its spokeswoman, Maja Kocijancic, told this website also on Thursday that Magnitsky will not be a big feature of the Putin meeting because the case was already discussed by low-level diplomats at a "human rights dialogue" on 7 December.

She said Russia's own investigation into his death has been "very limited ... not adequate."

She also said Brussels has "noted" that the European Parliament and parliaments in the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK have called for EU action in non-binding resolutions.

But she added: "A decision on restrictive measures would be for member states to take in unanimity."

Cyprus seeks €11.5 billion bailout

Cyprus is reportedly seeking a €11.5 billion credit line from member states using the euro to help bailout its troubled banks and close its budget gaps.

Agenda

Budget, Zuckerberg, Pelosi and Cayman Islands This WEEK

EU leaders will put their heads together on Thursday night to look for a compromise on the next long-term EU budget. EU Council president Charles Michel's latest proposal has received a lukewarm welcome from member states.

EU transparency on lobbyist meetings still piecemeal

Small steps are being made to reveal who is lobbying who within the EU. But the approach is basically haphazard and piecemeal - meaning the public remains largely in the dark and unable to truly scrutinise the influencers.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersScottish parliament seeks closer collaboration with the Nordic Council
  2. UNESDAFrom Linear to Circular – check out UNESDA's new blog
  3. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December

Latest News

  1. Ending shell companies does not threaten privacy
  2. Net payer countries push back on EU budget plans
  3. Is Belgium heading for new elections?
  4. Budget, Zuckerberg, Pelosi and Cayman Islands This WEEK
  5. EU plan on AI: new rules, better taxes
  6. What the EU can do for South Sudan - right now
  7. The last best chance for Donbas and peace in Europe?
  8. EU commissioner lobbied by energy firm he owns shares in

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us