Five Cyprus Golden Passport Holders Sanctioned for Russian Arms Trading

Published: 07 February 2023

By Graham Stack

Five of the 10 people the United States sanctioned last week for operating a Russian arms sanctions evasion network acquired EU citizenship in 2016 through Cyprus’ notorious ‘golden passport’ scheme, according to records obtained by OCCRP.

The U.S. has sanctioned 10 individuals and 12 companies that, according to the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), are part of a network headed by arms dealer Igor Zimenkov, who operates out of Russia and Cyprus, according to OFAC.

The controversial ‘Golden Passport’ scheme allowed foreigners to acquire Cypriot, and therefore EU, citizenship, in return for investment in Cyprus. It was scrapped in 2020 after allegations of abuse by oligarchs, organized crime figures and kleptocrats.

“Igor Zimenkov has worked closely with his son Jonatanand a broad network of individuals and entities to enable Russian defense sales to third-country governments,” OFAC said, announcing the sanctions.

“Russia’s desperate attempts to utilize proxies to circumvent U.S. sanctions demonstrate that sanctions have made it much harder and costlier for Russia’s military-industrial complex to re-supply Putin’s war machine,” Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Wally Adeyemo, said in a statement.

“Targeting proxies is one of many steps that Treasury and our coalition of partners have taken, and continue to take, to tighten sanctions enforcement against Russia’s defense sector, its benefactors, and its supporters,” Adeyemo added.

Besides Igor Zimenkov and his son Jonatan, the network includes Alexander Volfovich and his two sons Stanislav and Ariel as well as a Latvian citizen, one person from Singapore, two from Uzbekistan and a native Cypriot, according to OFAC.

The “Zimenkov network” supplied hi-tech gadgets including electro-optic and infrared devices to Russia, even after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the office said.

Zimenkov and associates corresponded directly with sanctioned Russian arms companies Rosoboroneksport and Rostec to facilitate foreign sales, such as Rostec’s sales of helicopters to a Latin American government. Igor Zimenkov also facilitated sales to Latin America for the sanctioned Belarusian state defense company Belspetsvneshtechnika.

The Volfovich family in turn used its companies in the network registered in Cyprus, Bulgaria, and Israel for arms brokerage in Africa, according to OFAC.