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Moldova Joins Campaign to Probe Russian Money Laundering

Moldova said it’s investigating Russian money laundering, becoming the fifth country to announce an inquiry into bank transfers stemming from the biggest tax fraud in Russian history.

Moldovan authorities opened a criminal investigation into suspected money laundering on Dec. 28, Anzhela Starinschi, a spokeswoman for the National Anti-Corruption Center in Chisinau, said by phone today.

The probe concerns funds transferred in 2008 to Moldova’s state-controlled Banca de Economii, according to a letter sent by Prime Minister Vladimir Filat last week to the anti-corruption center, the general prosecutor’s office and Interior Ministry. Banca de Economii declined to comment by phone and asked for an e-mailed request, to which it hasn’t repsonded.

Switzerland, Cyprus, Latvia and Lithuania are also investigating money laundering connected to a $230 million tax fraud uncovered by Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in 2009 in a Moscow prison. His case sparked a diplomatic dispute between the U.S. and Russia, after American sanctions imposed in December on Russian officials accused of having a role in his death prompted Moscow to bar U.S. adoptions of Russian children.

Filat in his letter, a copy of which was e-mailed today by the government press office, ordered the agencies to inform him about the actions they have taken concerning the investigation.

‘Prickly Issue’

Magnitsky alleged Russian officials fraudulently collected the $230 million tax refund using documents seized from his client, Hermitage Capital Management, a London-based investment fund. An investigation led by Hermitage has traced $134 million through bank accounts and shell companies in at least 17 countries that were quickly transferred abroad after the Dec. 26, 2007, tax refund.

“This is a particlarly prickly issue for Moldova because of their desire to join various EU structures in the future,” Hermitage Chief Executive Officer William Browder said in an e-mail today.

The investment fund’s London-based lawyers wrote to Moldovan authorities in June informing them about $53 million of suspicious wire transfers to Banca de Economii, according to a statement e-mailed by Hermitage today. Those funds were then sent to Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Switzerland, Austria, Finland and Hong Kong, Hermitage said.

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