UK daily The Guardian claims that billions of dollars of laundered Russian money were moved out of the country in an operation dubbed ‘Global Laundromat’, with anonymously-owned UK companies playing a lead role.
The paper states that documents seen show that at least US$20bn was moved out of Russia over the four year period 2010 to 2014 and the true figure could be US$80bn.
UK banks, including the ‘big four’ of HSBC, Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), Lloyds and Barclays, processed nearly US$740m from a money laundering operation run by Russian criminals with links to the Russian government and the KGB, according to The Guardian.
It adds that they face questions over what they knew about the international scheme dubbed “the Global Laundromat” and their willingness to accept suspect transfers of money that was “obviously either stolen or with criminal origin”.
HSBC is believed to have processed US$545.3m in Laundromat cash, mostly routed via its Hong Kong branch, while RBS handled US$113.1m and Coutts accepted US$32.8m worth of payments via its Swiss office in Zurich. US banks reportedly processed more than US$63.7m, including Citibank (US$37m) and Bank of America (US$14m).
The Global Laundromat banking records were obtained by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and Russian paper Novaya Gazeta, which shared the data with media partners in 32 countries. The documents include details of about 70,000 banking transactions, including 1,920 that went through UK banks and 373 via US banks.
Detectives are reported to have conducted investigations in 96 countries, uncovering a network of anonymously-owned firms, most of which were registered in Companies House in London. Most of the 21 core companies investigated have now been dissolved.
A typical transaction would involve two firms, one pretending to lend money to one another, with the sums underwritten by Russian businesses. One company would then “default” on the loan. Judges would certify the “debt” as authentic, allowing the Russian businesses to send cash to an account in Moldova, from where it went to Latvia, inside the European Union (EU).
ExxonMobil is legally challenging a $2m fine from the US Treasury for allegedly violating sanctions against Russia in 2014 while US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was still overseeing the company.
Morgan Stanley is moving staff to Frankfurt in time for the March 2019 Brexit deadline.
The US bank, which already has 350 employees based in the city, will transfer some trading activities currently undertaken in London and create a further 150 to 250 jobs according to reports.
BNP Paribas is the latest in a long line of financial service companies to be penalised for misconduct during the financial crisis on both sides of the Atlantic.