Posts Tagged ‘Jon Ungoed-Thomas’

24
June 2013

London ‘rolls out the red carpet’ for money launderers

Sunday Times

THE head of a hedge fund that was the victim of a £144m fraud in Russia has complained that Britain has “rolled out the red carpet” for money launderers.

Bill Browder, founder and chief executive officer of Hermitage Capital Management, said British authorities had failed to investigate the fraud against his firm despite evidence showing the involvement of UK companies.

In 2007, Hermitage’s offices in Moscow were raided by police who seized corporate records, company seals and tax certificates.

The documents were used by a criminal gang to fraudulently claim a tax refund from the Russian government.

A lawyer who tried to expose the crime, Sergei Magnitsky, was arrested and died in custody in 2009.

Browder and his team have since traced some of the stolen funds around the world. Investigations have begun in Switzerland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Moldova and Cyprus. In America, a law, the Magnitsky Act, was passed to deny visas to and freeze assets of those implicated in his death.

Yet Browder, whose firm is based in London, says the UK authorities have taken no action despite the involvement of British companies receiving funds or acting as agents for those involved in the crime.

In a letter to HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) last month, lawyers acting for Hermitage said a company services firm, GSL Law & Consulting, with offices in London, had acted as an agent for some of the companies involved in the fraud. The letter said GSL’s role meant it should not meet HMRC’s “fit and proper” test for companies providing offshore company services.

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17
June 2013

Boozy Latvian ‘billionaire’ is smokescreen for fraud

Sunday Times

An itinerant, hard-drinking Latvian pensioner has emerged as one of the world’s richest men — on paper.

Erik Vanagels, 73, appears to be a billionaire with an empire that has interests in hundreds of businesses including banks, investments funds, pharmaceuticals and shipping. But it is not his. Vanagels is revealed today as the stooge director of “brass-plate” companies that stretch from London to the Caribbean.

Leaked offshore documents show that he is one of the most widely used corporate ciphers in the world. His name has been used to conceal the true beneficiaries of thousands of firms, some scandal-ridden.

Vanagels’s 13-year business career has been made possible by corporate secrecy in Britain, its overseas territories and leading world economies.

The case underlines David Cameron’s call for greater corporate transparency.

The Sunday Times and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists have established that Vanagels and Stan Gorin, a fellow nominee director, have served on firms linked to a series of financial scandals. The stooge directors would have signed away their rights to any powers and been unaware of any alleged fraud.

The scandals include the theft of $230m (£146m) from the Hermitage Capital fund in Russia; the alleged defrauding of the Kazakh BTA Bank of £3bn, and an American Ponzi scheme.

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17
June 2013

Fraud trail leads to OAP’s tiny flat

Sunday Times

A hard-drinking pensioner in Latvia has been revealed as the frontman for a network of scandal-hit companies.

In a bustling cobbled street in central Riga, an alleyway leads to a modest red-brick and wooden apartment block. It is the last known address of an apparent business colossus — Erik Vanagels.

Friends and relatives of the former factory worker claim he has poor sight, is a capacious drinker and disappears for weeks on end.

A leak of offshore documents to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) reveals a rather different figure: an apparent tycoon with interests in banking, investment funds, pharmaceuticals and shipping. He is a director or an owner of several hundred companies around the world.

On paper Vanagels is probably a billionaire. In reality the 73-year-old is a corporate cipher used as a veil to conceal the real beneficiaries of companies.

Among the world of investigators and lawyers who unravel complex frauds, Vanagels is an almost mythical figure. His companies have been involved in a series of financial scandals and alleged frauds. These include:

■ The Hermitage Capital fund money laundering scandal in which $230m (£146m) was allegedly looted between December 2007 and February 2008 in a fraud involving the fund’s Russian operations.

■ Technomark Business, a London company, is alleged to have received $43m of stolen Hermitage funds that were wired to a Latvian bank account. Vanagels was a director of Technomark’s parent company.

■ Mukhtar Ablyazov, who has been sued by BTA Bank, for which he worked, for misappropriating billions of dollars using various companies including British-based Loginex Projects. Vanagels was a shareholder and director of the companies that controlled Loginex.

■ A Ponzi scheme that operated in America in 2009 — the Rockford Group — routed more than $500,000 illicit funds to a British company, Intercity Transit, according to court filings by the US Securities and Exchange Commission.

A Cypriot company in which Vanagels was a director was used as a UK corporate director of Intercity Transit.

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