Moldova is a tiny country squeezed between the interests of Russia and the European Union. Despite or perhaps because of its rampant poverty, it has grown into one of the biggest money laundering hubs on the continent.
Billions in black money flow annually through local banks. Moldova is a proxy – most of the money flowing through its banking system is not Moldovan. But the process has corrupted Moldovan society and wreaked havoc on the country’s politics, economy and judiciary.
The November billion vanished after the banks gave loans to companies owned by people whose identities remain hidden in a maze of offshore corporations. The borrowers took the money and ran. The collapse of these loans was a serious blow to a Moldovan banking sector already buffeted by corruption scandals:
- The Magnitsky Affair began in 2007 when US$ 230 million was stolen from the Russian budget. Eventually, the money was routed through a group of Moldovan banks; some of it was traced to high-end real estate in New York City.
- The Russian Laundromat, uncovered by OCCRP in August of 2014, was much bigger, passing US$ 20 billion in stolen Russian funds through some of the same Moldovan banks en route to Europe.