Translator Skips US Comment on Russian Money Laundering in Cyprus

The part of the speech where U.S. Secretary’s Mike Pompeo expressed concern with Russia’s money laundering in Cyprus was missing in local media reports from a press conference he gave in the capital of Nicosia on Saturday because the translator skipped it.

Pompeo and President AnastasiadesPompeo and President Anastasiades meet at the Presidential Palace in Nicosia, Cyprus (Credit: U.S. Embassy in Cyprus)The money laundering issue is very sensitive for the powerful elite of lawyers and accountants of the East Mediterranean island, which has been frequently criticized for allowing dubious foreigners to buy real estate sometimes with ill-gotten money which then allows them to obtain EU citizenship. 

It is a tricky issue for President Nicos Anastasiades himself, whose former law firm threatened to sue OCCRP for revealing that it once represented clients linked to the so-called Troika Laundromat - a scheme that allowed Russia's elite to funnel out at least US$20 billion from Russia, evading taxes and laundering the money. 

In comments made during a televised press conference that followed a meeting with the Cypriot leader, the U.S. Secretary of State first praised the improvement of U.S.-Cypriot relations, which led to a partial lifting of a U.S. embargo against Cyprus two weeks ago, but then took issue with the fact that it has allowed Russia to increase its presence there.    

“Security cooperation matters all the more as we see nations which don’t share our values trying to obtain new footholds in the region,” Pompeo said.

“To that end, I raised the United States concern over Russia’s money-laundering activities and its regular port calls here. We know that all the Russian military vessels that stop in Cypriot ports are not conducting humanitarian missions in Syria,” he said, adding that he had asked the Cypriot president to consider the U.S. concerns.

This is the version of the US Embassy in Nicosia, which posted a full transcript of Pompeo’s speech on its website. 

However, the version Cypriots got to hear had no money laundering reference in it. The interpreter had left that part out, arguing later that Pompeo was speaking too fast. 

“And the cooperation in security becomes even more important since we try to achieve… huh… huh… the best in this region and also we know that all war ships that commit humanitarian missions to Syria and we ask from the president and the Cypriot government to look into our concerns” was what viewers of Cypriot TV channels heard.

A press release issued by Cyprus’s Press and Information Office (PIO), the government’s official news service, also completely omitted any reference related to the U.S. leader’s concerns related to money laundering.

When contacted by OCCRP on Monday, the interpreter said that Pompeo was speaking too fast, forcing her to skip the reference to money laundering. She said nobody instructed her to omit the translation of the reference in question.