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.
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.