‘You Don’t Kill a Story by Killing a Journalist’
Three years ago today, Corinne Vella received a call that would forever change her family, her life, and even her homeland, the small Mediterranean island of Malta.
Banking records obtained by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) indicate that the Latvian bank Trasta Komercbanka was the final destination for billions of dollars that left Russia in a massive money laundering scheme.
In each case found by OCCRP and investigated by Moldovan anti-money laundering police, two UK-based-but-offshore-owned companies signed what police say were bogus loan contracts.
Here’s how police say the scheme worked:
One company would default on the loan, leaving a Russian company or companies and a Moldovan citizen holding the alleged debt.
Moldovan courts would then confirm the debt using fake or incomplete documents and order the Russian company to pay.
Every payment was sent to Trasta Komercbanka, allowing the laundered funds to enter the European Union from Russia.
Trasta Komercbanka is one of the oldest private banks in Latvia. It was founded under the name Riga Bank in 1989 but in 1995 changed its name to Trasta Komercbanka.
The bank initially offered banking services as well as loans to companies and investment services. After the Russian financial crisis of 1997 the bank changed its mode of operation and, in 2000, began specializing in serving VIP clients. The bank has offices in Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, Canada, and Bulgaria as well as in Cyprus.
Trasta Komercbanka was one of six Latvian banks used in the Sergey Magnitsky case.
OCCRP sent Trasta a set of questions regarding the money-laundering operations but a bank spokesperson replied that the bank cannot comment on the case. It has not been charged with any illegal activities although it has been involved in other cases where money laundering was alleged.