The Malta Independent 17 August 2019, Saturday

Russian Laundromat: four Malta-based companies received USD3 million in laundered funds

Sunday, 26 March 2017, 09:00 Last update: about 3 years ago

Four Maltese companies received close to USD3 million in laundered Russian funds according to research published by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project this week.

The transfer of the funds all occurred between August 2013 and January 2014. The largest share of laundered funds went to a firm named ASAP Equipment Limited, which received USD2,496,515. Smaller amounts were received by: Corinaro Trading Ltd (USD184,288), La Vida Enterprises Ltd (USD147,232) and F.I.T. Ltd (USD135,240).

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All four companies concerned appear to be held by Maltese fiduciary firms. Maltese fiduciary firms and their practice of holding companies on behalf of Ultimate Beneficiary Owners, the names of whom the firms are not obliged to disclose, have been embroiled in several scandals over recent years – from the Panama Papers to Offshore Leaks to the 'Ndrangheta mafia remote gaming scandal.

It is not known whether the Maltese authorities are investigating the allegations.

The revelations came this week when a group of anti-corruption reporters, who in 2014 first exposed the criminal scheme to move large sums of money out of Russia, said they uncovered the details about how the system worked, including the transfer of USD21 billion through major banks.

Members of the group say in a report published this week that they now know where the funds ended up and that banks allegedly refused to shut it down, despite warnings.

The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project said that reporters from the group and the Novaya Gazeta newspaper in Moscow obtained bank records showing that funds were transferred worldwide via 112 bank accounts in Eastern Europe. They shared the details of the scheme, dubbed Laundromat, with investigative reporters in 32 countries. 

Those details included the information on the funds transferred to Malta, which, although a drop in the USD21 billion bucket, should still warrant an investigation by the Maltese anti-money laundering authorities.

"Law enforcement agencies in Moldova, Latvia, Britain and Russia continue to investigate Laundromat, but attempts to bring those responsible to justice and to recover the money have been hampered in part by the reluctance of Russian officials to cooperate," the group said on its website.

Organizers of the scheme created a core of 21 companies based in Britain, Cyprus and New Zealand, run by hidden owners and used by several Russian companies to move their money abroad. All the core companies appeared to be owned by proxies standing in for hidden owners, with fake directors and shareholders, though the reporters provided no evidence to back the claims.

Between 2011 and 2014, the 21 shell companies sent 26,746 payments from various accounts to 96 countries, including to some of the world's biggest banks, such as HSBC, Deutsche Bank, Bank of China, Bank of America and Emirates NBD.

Laundered money ended up at several big name companies, including South Korea's Samsung, Swedish telecom company Ericsson, toolmaker Black & Decker and Total Golf Construction Inc., which says it has renovated a Donald Trump golf course in the Grenadines.

Using company records, the investigative reporters said they tracked some clients, many rich and powerful Russians who made fortunes from dealing with the Russian state, including a businessman in the inner circle of Russian President Vladimir Putin and IT distributors in Russia, including for Apple, Samsung and Asus.

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