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AP: Cypriot president asks foreign experts to help with Russian sanction evasion investigations

by Nate Ostiller and The Kyiv Independent news desk November 21, 2023 12:51 PM 3 min read
Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides during a joint press conference with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis (not seen) in Athens, Greece on Nov. 10, 2023. (Costas Baltas/Anadolu via Getty Images)
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Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides told the Associated Press on Nov. 20 that he had invited financial crime experts from an unnamed third-party country to assist with investigations into the use of Cyprus as a means of circumventing sanctions against Russia.

There should be “absolutely no shadows” over Cyprus because it harms the ability to attract "quality" foreign investment, he said.

Christodoulides' comments came after a massive leak of millions of files on Nov. 14 obtained from Cypriot financial service providers, dubbed "Cyprus Confidential," and a subsequent wide-ranging investigation by the International Consortium of Investigate Journalists (ICIJ).

Together, they comprise a complex picture of "how Cypriot financial enablers scrambled to help Russian oligarchs and Putin allies shield their assets and avoid Western sanctions," the ICIJ wrote.

In one of the disclosures, the ICIJ found that Ukraine's richest man, Rinat Akhmetov, allegedly borrowed $400 million from Russia's largest bank, Sberbank, and also allegedly purchased a luxury penthouse in London in 2021 for 87.5 million British pounds ($107 million) through a shell company based in the British Virgin Islands.

Media: Ukrainian oligarch Akhmetov borrowed $400 million from Russian bank
Ukraine’s richest man Rinat Akhmetov allegedly borrowed $400 million from Russia’s largest bank, Sberbank, the International Consortium of Investigate Journalists (ICIJ) said on Nov. 14, citing information obtained from leaked documents dubbed “Cyprus Confidential.”

Although Christodoulides defended Cyprus' efforts so far to reform its banking sector, he also acknowledged that the perception of the country as a place to evade sanctions and launder money would be hard to shake.

The AP wrote that in 2013, "nearly a third of the country’s 68 billion euros ( in deposits — more than triple the entire economy — was held by Russians."

Cypriot Finance Minister Constantinos Petrides said in January 2023 that Russian deposits in banks in the country had decreased from 40% before the 2013 financial crisis to 3.8%.

In addition, he added that Cyprus had frozen about 1.5 billion euros ($1.6 billion) in Russian assets in accordance with the European Union sanctions against Russia since the beginning of the full-scale invasion.

Apart from inviting foreign experts, Christodoulides said that Cyprus would continue to reform its financial system to demonstrate that the country "has zero tolerance for corruption.”

Cyprus has long been a destination for Russians since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, but increasingly, the Turkish-occupied region in the northern part of the country has become popular with Russian emigres as well.

Almost 40,000 Russians settled there in 2023 alone, the Guardian wrote in September, out of a total population of 382,000 in the de-facto republic.

Guardian: Top German journalist received funds from Russian oligarch close to Putin, leak reveals
Hubert Seipel, an influential German writer and filmmaker, received at least 600,000 euros ($652,000) in secret offshore payments from companies linked to an oligarch close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Guardian reported on Nov. 14, citing leaked files.

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