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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 11 December 2018

Scottish limited partnerships ‘used as cover for bank heist'

According to private detective agency Kroll, almost $3 billion was siphoned from three of Moldova’s banks and funnelled through shell companies in Scotland

The skyline of city centre, Glasgow, Scotland. A giant bank heist has exposed Scotland as a magnet for money-launderers. Yadid Levy/Robert Harding World Imagery/Corbis
The skyline of city centre, Glasgow, Scotland. A giant bank heist has exposed Scotland as a magnet for money-launderers. Yadid Levy/Robert Harding World Imagery/Corbis

The full scale of the massive bank heist which exposed Scotland as a magnet for money-launderers has been revealed by international investigators.

According to private detective agency Kroll, almost US$3 billion was laundered from three of Moldova’s leading banks, emptying them of almost all their funds.

Investigators say much of the cash was channelled through shell companies in Scotland, as well as other UK firms, the Herald Scotland reported.

Kroll’s findings come more than two years after an initial investigation first highlighted the role played by Scottish limited partnerships in the complex fraud, which has been described as “the heist of the century”. The initial report by Kroll, leaked by the Herald and the BBC, revealed that limited partnerships, which have few reporting requirements and whose ownership is often opaque, are a favourite tool for criminals to disguise illegally-gained proceeds.

Around 20 UK limited partnerships were allegedly involved in the scheme, with all but one of them in Scotland.

The latest report by Kroll revealed in greater detail how the three banks in the ex-Soviet republic – Banca de Economii, Banca Social and Unibank banks – were robbed between 2012-14, forcing the impoverished country into a massive banking bailout.

The agency accuses Israeli businessman Ilan Shor of effectively syphoning funds from the banks, in what it calls a “core laundering mechanism”.

The scheme allegedly involved Mr Shor making fraudulent loans to shell companies, mostly in the UK, with accounts in Latvian banks.

While it was initially believed $1bn vanished from the banks, the latest report suggests as much as $2.9bn was laundered through 81 bank accounts at two Latvian banks.

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About $600 million remains unaccounted for. Mr Shor was sentenced to seven and half years in prison for masterminding the fraud, although he is currently still at liberty pending an appeal.

The report, published by Moldova’s central bank last week, said: “The majority of these accounts were held in the names of UK limited partnerships, or companies registered in offshore locations such as Belize, BVI and

Panama.

“Most of these companies had recently been incorporated, they had no established business, no public accounts, no business premises, no other bank accounts, no public profile and no identifiable owners.”

Mr Shor, a 26-year-old tycoon known for his fleet of expensive cars, a football club and a Russian pop-star wife, denies all the allegations.

“In essence, Kroll continues to act under orders from the main beneficiaries of the stolen funds,” he said.

Anti-corruption campaign group Transparency International has dubbed SLPs “Britain’s home-grown secrecy vehicle”, given their links to two other major money-laundering scams: the multi-billion-dollar Russian and Azerbaijani Laundromats.

This autumn, British ministers introduced new regulation designed to improve transparency at SLPs.

According to a Herald investigation earlier in the year, these rules have been widely flouted in the past.