It happened again. Yet another massive money laundering scandal in Latvia. Of course, this should be no surprise since Latvia never prosecutes anyone even when foreign governments hand completed investigations to Latvian officials. Latvia’s only efforts have been directed at whistleblowers – terrorizing them to make them shut up. Since there are only a tiny number of people who benefit (the Oligarchs and their cronies) and millions of people who are hurt (Latvians, Russians, Europeans, Americans) it is really amazing that the Western governments allow this racket to continue.
In 2008, when the public discovered that $1 bln disappeared from Parex Bank of Latvia, the government fought long and hard to cover-up for the Oligarchs. The government chased the first whistleblower into exile and started a “show trial” prosecution of the second whistleblower, at the request of offshore bank AB.LV. Many accounts from Parex moved to AB.LV when Latvia and the EBRD bailed out Parex in what was later revealed to be an Enron-style cover-up featuring a secretly reversible share transfer designed to help Latvia temporarily overstate income and understate debt while actually increasing the total bailout expense to taxpayers. In 2015, when the public discovered that $1 bln disappeared from three banks in Moldova, with the cash moving through AB.LV, Latvijas Pasta Banka, and Privatbank (Latvia), something different happened. Moldova ordered an investigation (Latvia never investigated Parex) and the Speaker of the Parliament published the investigation on his blog (in Latvia the Prime Minister lied to voters that “Sweden” caused the crash). Moldova is attempting to recoup the lost money, and the responsible Oligarch is under house arrest and expected to spend the rest of his life in prison. Contrast this to Latvia where the government made no attempt to recoup the money and the Oligarchs are free enjoying life in their Jurmala palaces. Maybe Latvia can learn something from Moldova?
investigative report from Kroll:
The OCCRP won recognition from the European Press Prize for exposing part of the “Latvian Proxy Network” racket by which government-protected banks launder billions of dollars for organized crime groups.
This was the article:
The OCCRP also released a video about the assassination network used by the “Latvian Proxy Network” identifying Alexander Antonov as the big boss. Antonov was shot in 2009 when he was trying to buy AP Bank (Swiss) from Parex oligarch Valery Kargin. The fact that this bank is currently owned by the EBRD following a fraudulent bailout using our tax money was unfortunately omitted from the article and video and therefore the “Latvian Proxy Network” continues to operate with impunity.
Anyway, it’s great that some brave journalists are educating the public about some of the crime in Latvia.
From 1972 to 1991, rogue bank BCCI ran a racket using the corrupt government of Panama for protection as it provided deposit services to crooks from Colombia. BCCI convinced former American president Jimmy Carter to promote them by tricking him that they were not corrupt and they were helping to develop the Third World. When the bank was shut down in 1991, it was discovered that all of its annual reports signed by Big Four auditors were fake and actually the bank was never profitable because it was booking “loans” which were transfers to crooks who never intended to repay.
Starting from 1993 and still continuing today, rogue bank Parex/Citadele is running a racket using the corrupt government of Latvia for protection as it provides deposit services to crooks from the former Soviet Union. Citadele has convinced former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker to promote them, and amazingly he has agreed even though the Latvian Prime Minister has (after fraudulently winning the October election) admitted that the Latvia/EBRD/Parex bailout in 2009 was a deception with a secretly reversible share transfer.
How large with the fraud grow? How many millions of people’s lives will be ruined? Will Parex/Citadele/Latvia/Volcker be able to surpass the old record set by BCCI/Panama/Carter?
Parex Bank got caught again. Parex organized the bribery for TeliaSonera in Uzbekistan. More than 64 million euros of bribes went through Parex to the family of President Islam Kerimov.
A bit of progress – LSM in Latvia has been regularly reporting these large crimes. In the past, when Parex organized the bribery for Daimler and Alstom in Latvia, the stories did not appear in the press.
But some things haven’t changed. The Latvian regulator FKTK still won’t punish anyone for anything.
Something to keep in mind for all people from the 65 countries where taxpayers support the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development – your tax money fraudulently funded the bailout of the offshore deposits at Parex when its assets were embezzled in 2008.
Neighboring Russia, and Under Its Sanctions’ Shadow Too
November 13, 2014 By Kira Zalan
Whatever the effectiveness of sanctions meant to sway Russia’s involvement in Ukraine, one thing is certain: they’ve worsened the country’s capital flight problem. By year’s end, approximately $128 billion will have moved abroad, up from $63 billion in 2013, according to Russia’s central bank. The European Central Bank in May cited a figure four times Moscow’s numbers.
But tracing where those funds are winding up and how they got there is difficult, according to financial crime experts. For countries with long-held financial and political ties to Russia, such opacity is only deepening suspicions that their financial institutions may be conduits for sanctions dodgers and money launderers.
Take Latvia, a former Soviet republic that earlier this year became the latest nation to adopt the euro. As part of an effort to align its banking sector with international standards, the Baltic country in 2008 passed an anti-money laundering law and established a financial intelligence unit—steps recognized by the Council of Europe’s Moneyval in 2012.
Latvia’s financial markets regulator hasn’t registered a subsequent increase in Russian capital deposits since March, the beginning of western sanctions over Russia’s involvement in Crimea.
Official statistics notwithstanding, “there’s a big industry in moving Russian money through Latvia,” said Josh Simmons, policy counsel at Global Financial Integrity, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group.
With Russian clients, “it’s difficult to know a lot of the time where the money is actually coming from,” said Simmons. “You don’t know if it’s proceeds of corruption, a state-owned entity or an individual that’s been sanctioned by the U.S.”
Under U.S. and EU sanctions, banks must freeze the assets of dozens of Russian companies and individuals and sharply limit the maturation windows on credit extended to certain businesses. The restrictions have forced banks to decipher hundreds of corporate arrangements worldwide to determine their exposure to monetary penalties.
‘Quite a temptation’
With a population of two million and a complex history with Moscow, Latvia has leaned toward the West since gaining its independence in 1991. That hasn’t stopped an influx of suspicious Russian funds, however.
An investigation by the nonprofit Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project in August exposed a scheme in which 19 Russian banks allegedly used fake debts and courts to transfer $20 billion through Moldova’s Moldindconbank to Latvia’s Trasta Kommercbanka AS between 2010 and 2014.
The exposure of Latvian banks to criminal exploits is exacerbated by the financial sector’s reliance on non-resident clients. Nearly half of all deposits in the country’s banks belong to foreign clients, according to national statistics.
“One of the biggest challenges in general is the presence of money of foreign origin in banks,” an official in Latvia’s Financial and Capital Markets Commission (FCMC) told ACAMS moneylaundering.com via e-mail. To better monitor foreign money, the regulator has imposed stricter anti-money laundering (AML) duties on banks with high shares of non-residential accounts, the person said.
“For so long, there’s been a boutique banking sector: customer oriented, whatever you want done, we’ll find a way to do it,” said Mark Galeotti, a professor at New York University. “It’s difficult [for regulators] to say, in effect, sometimes you’ll have to turn away business, particularly when the banking sector faces a lot of competition and livelihood depends on turnover.”
Galeotti, who has researched money flows into Latvia, said there is anecdotal evidence that Russians are willing to pay as much as double in percentage fees to have their money laundered.
“This is quite a temptation for Latvian bankers,” he said.
“Risks are increasing, but so are opportunities in the short-term.”
One day before the imposition in March of U.S. sanctions over violence in Ukraine, the chief executive officer of Latvia’s PrivatBank described plans to grow the banks non-resident deposits, particularly from clients in Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan—“countries in which businesses are interested in EU banks,” according to Latvian news agency LETA.
Small sector, big perks
Although the size of Latvia’s banking industry remains modest when compared with offshore hubs like Cyprus and Malta, the country is nevertheless a regional financial center, according to the country’s regulator.
That’s because Latvian banks have carved a niche by “dealing with short-term incoming cash flows,” said Kristaps Zakulis, FCMC chairman, in a statement. The specialization differentiates Latvia from historical financial sectors, such as Switzerland and London, which focus more on attracting long-term deposits from non-residents, according Zakulis.
With Scandinavian-owned Swedvank, SEC and Nordea dominating the domestic market, Latvian boutique banks have had to cater to Russian-speaking clientele, according to Galeotti and Andrew Bowen, a Boston College Ph.D. candidate working with Galeotti.
Rietumu Banka, which in August was the subject of a FCMC enforcement action for inadequate customer controls, advertises 5-year residence permits for foreign investors who deposit more than 300,000 euros in 5-year-term deposits or bonds—“the fastest and easiest way to the residence permit.”
The permits, which can also be obtained by investing 72,000 euros in real estate or 35,000 euros in a business, come with an EU national ID card and a guarantee of free movement within 25 countries of Europe’s Schengen Area.
With the exception of Hungary, Latvia’s permit thresholds are lower than any other EU country, including Spain, Greece and Portugal. But while Hungary’s permanent residence program has “reportedly attracted little interest,” over 7,000 people—75 percent of whom are Russian—had been granted permits as of 2013, according to an August 2013 story by The Wall Street Journal.
“Cyprus is still under heavy surveillance while Latvia is still an integral point for getting capital out of Russia,” said Bowen, adding that there has been talk recently of repealing the lax residency visa system. “They’re trying to be more careful,” likely as a result of pressure from other European economies, he said.
If Latvia has made progress in policing its financial sector, it has done so following decades of banking troubles.
Immediately after the fall of the Soviet Union, in the early 1990s, the Baltic nation adopted a posture on financial regulation that was “extremely liberal,” said Anders Aslund, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute. “They simply didn’t understand what they were doing.”
Parex Banka, established in 1992, was “a money laundering bank from the outset,” that would “exchange all currencies and ask no questions,” said Aslund. Parex became the second largest bank in Latvia and was subsequently faulted for facilitating money laundering and corruption.
In 2005, the U.S. Treasury Department designated Multibanka and VEF Bank as institutions of “primary money laundering concern” under Sec. 311 of the Patriot Act.
Two years later, six Latvian banks were among the financial institutions implicated in the so-called “Magnitsky Affair,” in which attorney Sergei Magnitsky allegedly uncovered evidence of a $230 million Russian tax fraud. The perpetrators purportedly funneled $63 million through Latvia’s banking system.
Following a probe into the allegations, FCMC fined one unnamed bank approximately $200,000, the maximum monetary penalty the regulator can impose for poor internal controls. Latvian media reported that $365 million may have been laundered through an account at Trasta Komrcbanka, $6.2 million of which may have had links to fraud scheme.
The Latvian bank has denied the allegations.
Other scandals have linked Latvian banks to money laundered by Mexican drug cartels and deposed Ukrainian officials.
Following compliance troubles at home, at least one U.S. bank—JPMorgan Chase— decided earlier this year to end its dollar-clearing transfers for Latvian lenders, officials confirmed. Commerzbank and Deutsche Bank are still providing the services for Latvian banks, according to the bank Web sites.
To address concerns, Latvia intends to impose tougher AML rules on banks “to sharpen the combat of potential money laundering through the Latvian financial sector,” officials said in an e-mail.
But more rules may not be enough, according to Galeotti.
“To be honest, there is a need for people to get caught and tried and put in prison to get people to realize that the balance between risk and opportunity has shifted,” he said.
Journalist Graham Stack has launched a new website called “Ukraine Leaks.”
Mr. Stack has done an excellent job researching the “Latvian proxy network” which is a group of dummy directors who use offshore banks in Latvia to organize huge corruption projects in Ukraine, Russia, and other countries.
Earlier, we posted a link to his article in BNE about Parex Bank’s gift of approximately $100 million of Latvian taxpayer money to Vladimir Putin’s friend Eduard Khudainatov.
The debut article on “Ukraine Links” is about a sham oil platform deal for Ukraine. Trasta Komercbanka of Latvia (founded by former Parex Ukraine rep Igors Buimisters) had a big role, explained on the website.
The transaction has also been linked to Latvian centi-millionaire Vasilijs Melniks. He is a former government minister who became wealthy by transferring state assets to himself in the 1990s.
Buimisters and Melniks have never been prosecuted despite involvement in many corruption scandals reported in the Latvian media over the past two decades.
UPDATE FEBRUARY 2015, NEW ARTICLE ABOUT VASILY MELNIKS:
Here is the guilty-plea announcement from the United States Department of Justice about Hewlett-Packard bribing the Office of the Prosecutor General of Russia through banks in Austria, Latvia, Lithuania, and Switzerland. Unfortunately, the names of the banks were not included. We don’t know if they included EBRD-funded Parex of Latvia, EBRD-funded Siauliu/Ukio of Lithuania, and EBRD-funded AP Bank (Parex/Citadele subsidiary) of Switzerland. However, the case seemed related to the Daimler/Parex case since the two cases were originally revealed at the same time. As usual, Latvian officials are not prosecuting anybody.
UPDATE – 26 AUGUST 2014 ON BFW (BLOOMBERG SUBSCRIBER SERVICE):
Dutch Lawmaker Asks Eurostat to Review Latvian Accounts
2014-08-26 11:29:53.256 GMT
By Corina Ruhe
Aug. 26 (Bloomberg) — Financial statements for Latvia are non-compliant with Eurostat standards, Pieter Omtzigt, Dutch member of parliament for the Christian Democrats, says in letter to Eurostat.
* Says Lavia “sold” shrs of nationalized Parex Bank to
European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in 2009
with secret “put option”, requiring Latvia to buy back the
shrs in future, guaranteeing unknown profit to EBRD at
expense of Latvian taxpayers
* Says money for Parex was only a loan effectively
* Says put option was major breach of European standards
* Says Eurostat obliged to instruct Latvia to restate
financial statements back to 2009; to include amount of put
option as debt
* NOTE: Latvia plans to sell Citadele this year
* NOTE: Dijsselbloem Says EBRD Has Put Option on Citadele,
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–With assistance from Aaron Eglitis in Riga.
To contact the reporter on this story:
Corina Ruhe in Amsterdam at +31-20-589-8526 or firstname.lastname@example.org To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Fergal O’Brien at +44-20-7330-7152 or
ORIGINAL POST – 10 JULY 2014:
We have been sending emails to Bloomberg for years that the EBRD/Latvia/Parex bailout was fraudulent because of a secret put option, and finally they have picked up the story! This is one of the largest frauds of the European Financial Crisis, and is even larger if incoming rumors are true that the EBRD has committed similar frauds in other countries.