Laundering of Russian money through German banks revealed

Laundering of Russian money through German banks revealed

German banks have become dragged into the ‘Moldovan scheme’ of Russian money laundering. According to Sueddeutsche Zeitung, the amount involved is $66.5 million, with the main counterparties being the leading banks Commerzbank and Deutsche Bank.⁠

At least 27 German banks, including the biggest, took part in the ‘Moldovan scheme’ of Russian money laundering in the period from 2010 to 2014. This is reported by Sueddeutsche Zeitung, which participated in the OCCRP investigation into the so-called Laundromat from the German side. This is how journalists dubbed the alleged scheme for the withdrawal of about 700 billion rubles (~$12b) from Russia in the course of several years.

According to SZ, about $66.5 million of funds withdrawn from Russia passed through German banks over that time (or $63.5 million, according to OCCRP). About 80% of this amount falls on the two leading German banks, Commerzbank and Deutsche Bank.

As journalists report, Commerzbank accepted $27.4 million of funds of doubtful origin during the specified period. Most of it ($23 million) was transferred by only five fly-by-night companies, which had a total of 63 accounts in the bank.

Deutsche Bank wired slightly less through its accounts, that is, about $24 million. As the bank’s press service told SZ, in recent years, the organization has been strengthening the control and security system, and in 2015, it hired 1000 new specialists in the field of control over transactions and suppression of financial crimes. Commerzbank representatives have not commented on the participation in the ‘Moldovan scheme’, noting that corporate control standards are of “high importance in the organization.”

According to SZ, the German banks received “suspicious transactions” from the clients of two Eastern European banks, namely the Moldovan Moldindconbank and the Latvian Trasta Komercbanka. For example, Deutsche Bank acted as a correspondent bank for both organizations, transferring customers' money across the border. While the Riga-based Trasta Komercbanka had long been under the supervision of Latvian regulators, which suspected it of money laundering, the journalists note. However, Deutsche Bank continued to work with it until August 2015, when the Latvian regulator FKTK warned about "risky banking operations fraught with reputational damage."

The Bavarian bank BayernLB took the vacant partner’s place. However, as early as a few months later, in January 2016, FKTK introduced restrictions on Trasta Komercbanka’s transactions, and in March, the European Central Bank revoked the bank’s license on the recommendation of FKTK.

BayernLB has the status of a land bank (official credit institution of German regional authorities) and is controlled by the Government of Bavaria by 75% (the remaining 25% belong to Sparkassen financial group). No transactions were conducted over the several months of cooperation with the Riga bank, the BayernLB’s press service told SZ. BayernLB representatives left the journalists’ question as to why the state bank “assumes such a high risk, as if it is a commercial organization” unanswered.

According to the Baltic publication Delfi, by the end of 2015, Trasta Komercbanka had €432.1 million in assets with a net loss of €4.7 million per year. According to Delfi, FKTK was not satisfied with the bank's business model and its long red ink. “In addition, long-term violations in the field of money laundering and terrorism financing have been revealed in the bank’s operation,” the publication notes.

At the end of 2015 Deutsche Bank reported about €1.63 trillion of assets, closing the world's top ten largest banks. At the same moment (December 31, 2015), Commerzbank was managing € 532.6 billion of assets, whereas BayernLB reported about €147.1 billion. Last spring, all three banks were involved in the international journalistic investigation concerning the so-called Panamanian archive in one way or another.

The ‘Moldovan scheme’

According to Novaya Gazeta’s investigation, the corruption scheme for the withdrawal of money from Russia through Moldova and Latvia involved the creation of offshore companies, which presented one another bills for a large sum.

When it was time to pay the bill, it turned out that there was not enough money on the fictitious debtor’s accounts. Front companies from Russia and Moldovan citizens acted as the guarantors of these accounts. Payers agreed to commitments, but admitted that they did not have such money. Since Moldovan citizens were listed as guarantors under the bill, the Moldovan court joined the case, obliging the guarantor companies to pay the value of the bill through legal proceedings, provided they had accounts in the territory of Moldova.

Thus, the money from the accounts of Russian companies in Moldovan banks was freely transferred outside of Russia by the court’s decision. Under the guise of judicial decisions taken by the Moldovan judges, Novaya Gazeta reports, $22 billion, or 700 billion rubles were withdrawn from Russia in the period from 2011 to 2014. The laundered money was thus further transferred to bank accounts around the world, including the respectable HSBC (the Great Britain), UBS (Switzerland), Nordea Bank (Scandinavia), as well as the Chinese Bank of China, China Construction Bank Corp., and Industrial and Commercial Bank of China.

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