Governments around the world must urgently redouble their supervision over banks, real estate brokers, company service providers and other intermediaries to track down dirty money from Russia.
In an open letter released March 23, Transparency International calls for stronger multilateral action to identify and freeze the assets of Russia’s kleptocrats, spanning countries and continents. Governments are urged to pay particularly close attention to the financial system’s gatekeepers and to better resource the institutions that are meant to monitor them.
Identifying and tracing dirty money is notoriously difficult. Kleptocrats deliberately conceal their assets through anonymously owned companies and trusts, investments in hedge funds, or proxies and nominee representatives.
The Russian Asset Tracker – released by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) – links 150 assets worth US$17 billion to 11 individuals currently targeted by Western sanctions. This is likely only a small fraction of illicit Russian wealth abroad: it is estimated that Swiss banks alone hold US$213 billion for clients from Russia.
Against this backdrop, corporate service providers, banks, real estate agents and wealth managers often hold key information on the massive wealth that Russia’s super-rich have offshored. Their services will be essential to the kleptocrats who may wish to move assets or continue disguising their ownership to keep them out of reach from the authorities. As it was recently reported in the case of Swiss bank Credit Suisse, there is also an imminent risk that key evidence could be destroyed before law enforcement agencies can build their cases.
Now is the time to request that these intermediaries audit their Russian clients, come forward with their connections to Kremlin-linked individuals and other elites, and supply evidence.
Maira Martini, corrupt money flows expert at Transparency International, said: “The clock is ticking, and authorities need to move quickly before these yachts, mansions and companies are sold off or moved to other tax havens. There is an entire industry of private sector intermediaries who have for decades helped wealthiest Russians to launder and anonymously park their money in Western banks and real estate across the globe. Getting them to collaborate is essential to quickly freezing these assets.”
In the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Transparency International launched a campaign aiming to engage the power of the anti-corruption movement to push ahead with key measures needed to hold Russian elites and their accomplices accountable.
With support from Change.org, Transparency International is organizing a public petition to allow concerned individuals from around the world to join the call for urgent action by Western leaders. “You need to ensure that billions in dirty dollars, pounds and euros do not fund the war machine and act decisively to deter Kremlin enablers in your countries,” reads the petition which has already been signed by nearly 15,000 people from across the globe.
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