‘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.
Behind the superstructure of banks, courts, and businesses real and fake that comprised the Laundromat are three Russian businessmen whose firms took in enormous sums – Alexey Krapivin, Georgy Gens, and Sergy Girdin.
Last year’s Panama Papers leak of secret financial documents revealed the three to be the real owners of a number of offshore companies. Some of those companies were active in the Laundromat, OCCRP has discovered.
None of these men had any comment for this report, and none has been held responsible in the scheme to date by any authorities.
Redstone Financial Ltd. from Belize and Telford Trading S.A. from Panama both belong to the reclusive Russian businessman Alexey Krapivin, according to information in the Panama Papers. OCCRP has found that these two offshore companies received US$ 277 million in Laundromat funds in accounts at the Swiss bank CBH Compagnie Bancaire Helvetique SA in Geneva between 2011 and 2014.
The Krapivin family presided over an empire of construction, engineering companies and banks, Reuters reported in 2014. Most of their companies looked like shell outfits, however, with no offices at official addresses and “owners” who were just proxies standing in. Reuters talked to one who admitted that the Krapivins were the real owners.
“I know Alexei Krapivin,” he said of Andrei Krapivin’s son.
The son, he said, organized business between the Russian Railways and the company. Krapivin senior was the “main man,” he said, and his son handled the practicalities.
The story of the Krapivin businesses is an interesting tale that does not end with the Panama leaks. German Gorbuntsov owned two banks that held accounts for the ghost companies – STB and Inkredbank. The senior Krapivin was also a shareholder at STB. After falling out with his partners including Krapivin, Gorbuntsov fled Russia in 2010.
In 2012, he survived an attempt to murder him in London.
The banking statements of the construction companies, which received hundreds of millions of dollars from the Russian Railways, show that two-thirds of the funds were wired to bogus companies registered by fake shareholders. Russian tax authorities identified some of these as tax evaders.
In addition, Reuters showed the data to financial experts who said they showed “typical warning signs of suspicious banking activity.”
From 2013 until 2014, a company from the British Virgin Islands (BVI), Comptek International Overseas Ltd., received $27 million in its account at the Swiss bank UBS AG, mostly from paper companies in the UK. All of them are dissolved as of today.
Retracing the money trail shows that the funds originated via the Laundromat.
Comptek International Overseas Ltd. is owned another BVI entity, Amerton Commercial Inc. that the Panama Papers revealed is owned by Georgy Gens.
The Moscow businessman also owns the Lanit group, a major information technology distributor in Russia for Apple, Samsung, ASUS and other computer giants.
The Russian state is a major Lanit client. According to OCCRP calculations, from 2010 until 2016, Lanit companies signed contracts with Russian agencies worth at least 51 billion rubles (about $890 million at today’s rates).
In response to reporting by OCCRP and Novaya Gazeta about his role in the Laundromat, Georgy Gens issued a statement denying his involvement. “This information does not correspond with reality,” Gens wrote. “I have nothing to do with siphoning billions of dollars from Russia using the so-called ‘Moldavian Scheme.’” He also notes that payments attributed to his company were not flagged as suspicious or problematic by its bank, UBS AG - proof, he says, that they were “viewed by the bank as standard business practices.”
From 2011 until 2013 the BVI company, Zymbeline Trading, received almost US$ 96 million in its account in the Swiss bank UBS AG.
The money came from Moldindconbank and Trasta Komercbanka via the same bogus UK companies that Moldovan and Russian authorities investigated in the Laundromat.
Zymbeline Trading appears in the Panama Papers as well. In 2008, the company’s sole director authorized a new signatory on its bank account: Sergey Girdin from St. Petersburg.
Girdin is the Honorary Consul of the Republic of Guinea and the owner of an IT holding, Marvel, with a turnover of about $380 million in 2015.
One of Marvel’s important clients is the state-owned Sberbank, Russia’s biggest lender. For the past two years Marvel’s subsidiary, Marvis, signed contracts with Sberbank worth more than $120 million and it stands to earn another $126 million from a new contract with Sberbank.
March 29, 2017: This story has been updated to add Georgy Gens’s response.