The “Laundromat” – a financial vehicle to move vast sums of money out of Russia through banks for years. The billions were moved from Russia, into and through the 112 bank accounts that comprised the system in eastern Europe, then into banks around the world.
Reporters can now say that much of the money ultimately found its way to Russian businessmen who own groups of companies involved in construction, engineering, information technology, and banking. All held hundreds of millions of US dollars in state contracts either with the government directly, or with state-owned entities.
Money that might have helped repair the country’s deteriorating roads and ports, modernize the health care system, or ease the poverty of senior citizens – was instead deposited in a Moldovan bank. At the other end of the Laundromat, money flowed out for luxuries, for rock bands touring Russia, and on a small Polish non-governmental organization that pushed Russia’s agenda in the European Union. (It is run by Mateusz Piskorski, a Polish pro-Kremlin party leader arrested for spying for Russia).
Well-known companies unwittingly took part when beneficiaries used their Laundromat money to buy goods and services: South Korea’s Samsung received laundered money, as did the Swedish telecom company Ericsson, and the toolmaker Black & Decker. In the United States, $500,000 went to Total Golf Construction Inc., the company that boasts of renovating a Donald Trump golf course on Canouan Island in the Grenadines.
The Laundromat was ingenious: Organizers created a core of 21 companies based in the United Kingdom (UK), Cyprus and New Zealand and run by hidden owners. A number of Russian companies then used these companies to move their money out of Russia.
The organizers created a fake debt among some of these core shell companies and then got a Moldovan judge to order the Russian company seeking to launder funds to pay that debt to a court-controlled account. Moldindconbank in Moldova held those accounts. The companies involved in the fake debt also had accounts at the same bank. Soon, Moldindconbank was deluged with cash sent in from the Russian companies. About $8 billion was then withdrawn directly from these accounts in Moldova and spent around the world.
Meanwhile, nearly $13 billion more was transferred to Trasta Komercbanka in Latvia. Some of the money disappeared into the maze of these same shell company accounts. Trasta Komercbanka’s location in the European Union made the transactions less likely to be questioned by other banks. The money was now considered “clean” European money that could be spent on anything the Russians wanted.
The system worked well enough to launder some $20.8 billion.
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