British banks, including HSBC, Barclays shown to handle US$740m cash from Russian criminals

Business | 21 Mar 2017 10:42 am

British bank HSBC, the Royal Bank of Scotland, Lloyds, Barclays and Coutts are among 17 banks in the UK have processed US$740m from a money-laundering operation run by Russian criminals with links to the Russian government and the KGB, the Guardian says in an exclusive report.

The paper says it has seen documents that reveal at least US$20 billion appears to have been moved out of Russia during a four-year period between 2010 and 2014. The true figure could be US$80 billion, detectives believe.

One senior figure involved in the inquiry said the money from Russia was "obviously either stolen or with criminal origin.''

Investigators are still trying to identify some of the wealthy and politically influential Russians behind the operation, known as "the Global Laundromat,” the Guardian says.

They estimate a group of about 500 people were involved. These include oligarchs, Moscow bankers, and figures working for or connected to the FSB, the successor spy agency to the KGB.

Igor Putin, the cousin of Russia’s president, Vladimir, sat on the board of a Moscow bank which held accounts involved in the fraud.

British-registered companies played a prominent role in this extensive money-laundering network. The real owners of most of the firms used in the scheme remain secret, however, because of the anonymity provided by controversial offshore laws, the Guardian says.

The Global Laundromat banking records were obtained by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project  and Novaya Gazeta from sources who wish to remain anonymous. OCCRP shared the data with the Guardian and media partners in 32 countries.

The documents include details of about 70,000 banking transactions, including 1,920 that went through UK banks and 373 via US banks.

The data is understood to be part of the evidence gathered in a three-year money-laundering investigation led by police in Latvia and Moldova.

Detectives have unravelled a conspiracy that involved billions of dollars being sent from suspected criminals in Russia via accounts in Latvia and Moldova held at banks notorious for their exposure to money-laundering scams.

The trail led investigators to 96 countries and to a network of anonymously owned firms, most of them registered at Companies House in London. Most of the 21 core companies under scrutiny have been dissolved.

The scale of the operation has staggered law enforcement officials,the Guardian says. The records show British banks and foreign banks with offices in London processed US$738.1m in transactions apparently involving criminal money from Moscow.

Banks say they have sophisticated units dedicated to rooting out financial crime. But they say the volume of payments – billions a year – makes such work difficult.

"If you are on the back end you are kind of playing whack-a-mole, trying to pick this up,” one source said.

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