Poet Leonidas Malenis likened his native Cyprus to a “golden-green leaf thrown in the sea,” but in recent years the east Mediterranean island nation has earned a darker reputation.
It has spent years courting Russian money and investment, and in the process transformed itself into an island of corporate service providers. Hundreds of bankers, accountants, auditors, and lawyers began to cater to a stream of wealthy Russian clients, helping them do business behind a veil of corporate secrecy. Today the island is sometimes referred to as “Moscow on the Med.”
When Cyprus joined the European Union in 2004, the island also became their gateway to Europe. Less than ten years later, there were some $31 billion of Russian assets in Cyprus, according to Moody’s estimates. By 2018, the head of the Cyprus Russian business association in Nicosia was claiming that the 300 Cypriot companies in the group were “worth around 80 percent of the wealth of Cyprus.”
“Initially not too many questions were asked when these investments came,” said Hubert Faustmann, a professor of Cypriot history and politics at the University of Nicosia.
But as the EU increasingly targeted Kremlin-linked Russians and their wealth in the aftermath of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, attention mounted on Cyprus and its track record of helping organize their business empires.
OCCRP and its media partners led early reporting on how Cypriot firms and lawyers helped powerful Russians restructure their assets to mitigate the impact of Western sanctions. Now, a global collaboration led by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and Paper Trail Media, based on more than 3.6 million documents leaked from Cypriot service providers, offers unprecedented insight into how these firms helped Russian oligarchs and billionaires organize — and hide — their wealth over the years.
The leaked files make it clear just how many Russians sought out these services. Most of the Russians appearing on the Forbes billionaires list were clients of Cypriot service providers, according to an ICIJ analysis. And more than 650 trusts and companies registered on the island were owned or controlled by Russians who have been sanctioned since 2014.
Stories by OCCRP and its partners show how powerful Russians used Cyprus and its service industry to do everything from moving millions across the world, to purchasing the rights to young soccer players. Cypriot service providers helped their clients even as the threat of EU sanctions loomed.
Read on to learn more about what we and our partners found in the data. This page also brings together OCCRP’s previous reporting on Cyprus and its nexus with Russian interests.
Journalists: Flora Alexandrou, Rana Al-Sabbagh, Tobias Andersson Åkerblom, Kelly Bloss, Šarūnas Černiauskas, Andreas Cosma, Anuška Delić, Lara Dihmis, Stevan Dojčinović, Irina Dolinina, Alex Dziadosz, Brian Fitzpatrick, Kevin Hall, Peter Jones, Elena Loginova, Loukianos Lyritsas, Selma Mhaoud, Miranda Patrucic, Dragana Pećo, Khadija Sharife, Karina Shedrofsky, Graham Stack, Tom Stocks, Jan Strozyk, Drew Sullivan, Tatiana Tkachenko, Alina Tsogoeva, Mika Velikovskiy, Julia Wallace, Martin Young, Kira Zalan
Fact-Checking: Birgit Brauer, Ivana Jeremić, Olena LaFoy, Bojana Pavlović, Maura Quatorze, Emad Sayed
Design and Graphics: James O'Brien, in collaboration with ICIJ
Promotion: Kathlyn Clore
Web Production: Fabienne Meijer
Media Partners: Aftenposten, ARIJ, The Australian Financial Review, BBC, Belarusian Investigative Center, BIRD, BVI Beacon, CBC/Radio Canada, CENOZO, Context, DARAJ, Delfi Estonia, Der Spiegel, Der Standard, Le Desk, De Tijd, Diario Rombe, Direkt36, DW Turkey, El País, Espresso, L’Espresso, Frontstory.pl, Fundacja Reporterow, Gota Media, The Guardian, Heimildin, Het Financieele Dagblad, HopSkip Studios, ICIJ, The Indian Express, investigace.cz, Investigative Journalists of Armenia, Irish Times, iStories, Knack, KRIK, Malta Times, MANS, Le Monde, NBC news, NRC, ORF, Oštro, Paper Trail Media, Premieres Lignes, La Presse, Politiken, Radio France, Re:Baltica, Reporter.lu, Reporters United, Rise Moldova, La Sexta, Shomrim, Siena, SIRAJ, Slidstvo media, SVT, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Tamedia, Trouw, Utrikesmagasinet.se, VSquare.org, Washington Post, Yle, ZDF