Billions of euros worth of anonymous Russian money has been funnelled illegally from tax havens back into the EU, via two banks in Lithuania. That’s the conclusion of an international investigation carried out by the International Consortium for Investigative Journalism, who received a leak of documents covering more than one million bank transactions
Flemish journalist Kristof Clerix of Knack magazine is a member of the committee. At least some of the money was the proceeds of crimes other than tax evasion, he told VRT Radio, and hundreds of Belgian companies received legitimate payments from the illegitimate funds.
“Companies who delivered goods and services to Russia were not paid by Russia, but through companies in tax havens such as the British Virgin Islands, Panama and Belize,” he explained. “These offshore constructions had bank accounts in Lithuania.” The set-up is a simple method of disguising the true origins of money paid.”
According to the leaked documents, some 650 Belgian companies received as much as 131 million euros in payments between 2004 and 2013, from a total flow of shady Russian money running into the billions. “But the Belgian companies are not necessarily guilty of money laundering,” Clerix said. “First we have to prove the criminal origin of the money, and then show that the companies were aware of it.”
One of the Lithuanian banks, Uklo Bankas, was investigated back in 2010 for money laundering. The Belgian banks involved had themselves a responsibility to report suspicions regarding the origins of the money – why was a Russian bill being paid through a Lithuanian bank? – but neither the banks nor the anti-money laundering agency are allowed to comment on whether that was done or not.
The Lithuanian bank investigated in 2010 was closed three years later when it came to light that there were connections between bank employees and officials of the Lithuanian anti-money laundering office.