The Moldovan House of Fraud
In the winter of 2008, more than US$52 million poured through the bank accounts of two ghost companies based in Moldova. These companies were conduits for money that a ring of Russian state officials and organized crime figures stole through a complex tax fraud scheme.
The fraud was exposed by Russian lawyer Sergey Magnitski who was working for Hermitage Capital, an American owned company that was unknowingly used by the ring. However, Russian officials instead jailed Magnitsky and he died from mistreatment in a Russian prison. The case has led to an acrimonious dispute among the governments of Russia, the United States and several European Union countries.
The Organized Crime and Corrupting Reporting Project (OCCRP) has found that more than one-fifth of the money was channelled by two companies, Bunicon-Impex SRL and Elenast-Com SRL -- to beneficiaries through a maze of companies stretching from Russia's far east to Cyprus.
The OCCRP investigation is at the heart of official inquiries in the Moldova, Latvia, Lithuania, Finland, Estonia and Switzerland. Swiss authorities froze bank accounts associated with some of the persons and companies mentioned in our reporting.
Now OCCRP reporters have found new evidence that the fraud Magnitsky uncovered was part of a larger money laundering operation that involved Moldovan ghost companies, Swiss bank accounts and a labyrinth of offshore companies.
Ghosts Dealing in Millions
Bunicon-Impex SRL was established in July, 2007 in a dilapidated, deserted house in the center of Chisinau, Moldova’s
capital. OCCRP reporters have found out that the same house is home to other ghost companies that were also involved in large scale fraud. Two of these -- Cupvitcons SRL and Melcon-Exim SRL -- were used to launder about US$54 million at about the same time the Magnitsky money passed through Bunicon's bank account.
Both these companies are named by Moldovan fiscal authorities as ghost or dummy companies run by proxy directors. And both Melcon-Exim and Cupvitcons were sued by the Moldovan Fiscal Inspectorate in Chișinău as the Moldovan state tries to recover the VAT associated with their transactions.The proxy owners listed in the registration documents, are sometimes not aware of the multimillion dollar transaction. Besides the same address, these ghost companies share the same naming convention that includes part of the proxies' names: Bunicon-Impex SRL is, at least on paper, represented by Vladimir Bunicovschi, Melcon-Exim SRL by Anatolie Melnic
and Cupvitcons SRL by Vitalie Cupcic.
Cupvitcons SRL, is part of a court case that, according to the Moldovan fiscal police, involved laundering money for another Moldovan company called Gasvat Grup SRL. This company was controlled by the controversial Moldovan businessman, Vadim "Cascei" Ciornea and was previously identified by OCCRP as part of a maze of companies involved in a large scale money laundering operation Cupcic, the representative of Cupvitcons, told Moldovan authorities that he was unaware of the transactions conducted on behalf of the company he represented on paper and had nothing to do with any the dealings between Cupvitcons and Gasvat Grup. The Moldovan secret service (SIS) analyzed signatures on the transaction documents and concluded that they are forgeries.
The large amounts of money laundered through the Moldovan companies bring not only cash into the pockets of local cotroversial businessmen such as Ciornea but violence to the streets of Chisinau. Ciornea was badly beaten in the summer of 2012 in the Moldovan capital. He was again assaulted, beaten and robbed in November of last year, this time by David Davitean, the brother-in-law of Vitalie Proca-an alleged Moldovan hitman arrested in January in Moscow for allegedly trying to kill businessman Gherman Gorbuntsov in the spring of 2012. Gorbuntsov, aka the Black Banker, is a Moldovan-Russian banker wanted for fraud and money laundering in Moldova and who currently lives in London under British police protection. Davitean is himself wanted by the Moldovan police and using multiple identities to hide.
Moldovan authorities believe that one of the most powerful criminal organizations in Russia, the Solntsevskaya mafia, may be after Gorbuntsov.