Russian intelligence “Laundromat” for dirty money

Russian intelligence “Laundromat” for dirty money

Russian intelligence is not about a cold mind and a heart on fire, but about a paw that is constantly reaching for dirty money

On March 15, 2023, the European Pravda newspaper reported, referring to Bild, that despite the actual expulsion of the Russian Federation from the Council of Europe, out of 120 Russians who worked in the international institutions within this body, nearly 90 have kept their jobs to this day.

In particular, this is about those holding dual citizenship. However, the key danger lies in the assumption that many of these people may be affiliated with Russian intelligence.

Who is leading the fight against money laundering in Europe

European journalists learned that the chief of the Council of Europe’s anti-money laundering program, Moneyval, Igor Nebivaev, 39, a Russian national whose father is a Russian Foreign Intelligence Service top operative, Vladimir Nebivaev. According to Bild, the latter serves his agency at the Moscow HQ.

Igor Nebivaev is listed on Moneyval’s official website but his family ties have not been publicly reported before. As it turned out, the father and son are still registered in the same apartment in Moscow.

Igor Vladimirovich Nebivaev was born on September 14, 1983, in Lytkarino, Moscow region. According to his Linkedin profile, in 200, Igor Nebivaev graduated from the Lomonosov Moscow State University before getting a job later that year (or rather, being hired by his father) as chief administrator of the Eurasian Group for Combating the Legalization of Criminal Proceeds and the Financing of Terrorism (EAG). EAG was established in 2004 and is an associate member of FATF. The initiative to create the EAG was first announced by the Russian Federation at the FATF plenary meeting in October 2003. In February 2004, the issue was discussed at the international meeting on the CIS member states’ cooperation in fighting money laundering and terrorism financing. The event also saw participation of China and a few international organizations. The inaugural conference was held in Moscow on October 6, 2004, attended by six founding countries: Belarus, Kazakhstan, China, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan. In 2005 and 2010, the group was expanded to include Uzbekistan (2005), Turkmenistan (2010), and India (2010), which previously had observer status.

Igor Nebivaev with his wife Yevgenia

Already in May 2008, after three years of work in this international institution, Igor Nebivaev was promoted to executive secretary and head of the division of the Federal Financial Monitoring Service of the Russian Federation (Rosfinmonitoring). At this time, he publishes his academic research entitled "Russo-American relations in the 1990s-early 2000s".

In December 2010, he was already deputy director of the international training and methodological center at Rosfinmonitoring (JSC MUMC FM). In essence, this allowed Nebivaev Jr. to constantly remain in the very bubble of international anti-money laundering procedures. And already in March 2012, he moves from Russia to become a political adviser in the Council of Europe, overseeing and managing CoE’s technical assistance programs in the field of combating money laundering and terrorism financing, asset recovery and tackling corruption in the Central, Eastern, and Southern Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa.

In September 2019, Nebivaev became the chief of the Economic Crimes and Cooperation Unit of the Council of Europe. And in March 2020, he was appointed executive secretary of the Council of Europe anti-money laundering program, Moneyval. In March 2023, he noted on his Linkedin profile that he had become the head of one of the divisions. That is, he remained working in the organization, even after a series of outraged reports in the European media.

The son is not responsible for the father if he is an SVR general…

In March 2018, Vladimir Nebivaev, the father of European official Igor Nebivaev, was targeted in a Ukrainian TSN news investigation. On March 23, 2018, patrol police detained a car with diplomatic license plates of the Russian Embassy in Kyiv. In that care, there were three Russian diplomats with signs of alcohol intoxication. Ruslan Trebunsky, a representative from the border guard service of the Russian FSB, was behind the wheel of the BMW, and his passengers were the security officer of the Russian embassy, Valery Shulik, and the official representative of the Russian foreign intelligence service Vladimir Nebivaev.

Vladimir Nebivaev

A week after the said events occurred, another investigation appeared on TSN, which, in fact, described the work of the Russian intelligence “rezidentura” in Kyiv, which mentioned the chief of the Russian Cultural Center in Ukraine, Konstantin Vorobyov.

No detailed information could be obtained on the further career path of General Nebivaev of the Russian SVR, as neither was it properly verified whether he was in contact with his son. However, the skyrocketing career path of Nebivaev Jr. suggests that without his father’s patronage and that of his agency it would be quite difficult to achieve such success.

Money laundering and Russian intelligence

The biggest fraud row in the field of money laundering unfolded in Germany in the summer of 2020. After the German payment system Wirecard filed for bankruptcy, it turned out that about 2 billion euros had disappeared from its accounts.

The main suspect was Jan Marsalek, a 40-year-old Austrian citizen and COO at Wirecard, who was helped to escape arrest by Russian intelligence operatives in Austria.

Airport announcement saying Jan Marsalek is wanted

The Russian publication Center "Dossier" and Süddeutsche Zeitung wrote that Jan Marsalek was affiliated with private military companies in the Middle East and Africa, as well as with the special services of several countries, including Russia.

The GRU military intelligence could have recruited Jan Marsalek more than 20 years ago. All these years, he could’ve been providing Russian intelligence with financial services for money laundering and relocation, as well as report to them about his contacts with Western special services and politicians.

On July 22, 2020, German law enforcement agencies announced they had arrested former Austrian CEO Markus Braun and two members of the board of directors of Wirecard for "commercial fraud." At the end of June, investigators in Germany and other countries focused on Wirecard’s fraudulent operations. It turned out, the company had been falsifying reports for years.

And this was exposed despite the quite decent audit reports of respectable international companies that operated under the control of the German financial regulator, which was subordinate to the then German finance minister, Olaf Scholz.

According to the investigation, the management of Wirecard recorded EUR 1.9 billion in assets from non-existent bank accounts, which is almost a quarter of the entire balance sheet. The scandal erupted after auditors understated this amount on the company's balance sheet.

A member of the board of directors and executive chief of Wirecard, Jan Marsalek, who is considered a key link in the scheme, was able to escape from Germany through an airport in Austria, using a private plane that took him to Minsk, from where he already reached Moscow, where he chose to stay.

Jan Marsalek's Russian passport

The probe of Marsalek was run by various journalists, including from the Financial Times, according to whom he repeatedly bragged to London bankers about his connections in the Austrian special services and his knowledge of the formula for the "Novichok" nerve agent, as well as other details of the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripals.

Handelsblatt and the Dossier Center reported that Marsalek was staying low somewhere in the Moscow region under the supervision of GRU operatives. In addition, the investigators learned that Marsalek had carried out transactions with cryptocurrencies in the interests of his Russian clients (or handlers).

In private conversations, Marsalek boasted to his interlocutors of his access to classified data of the Austrian special service BVT – the investigation in Austria came to the conclusion that his contacts in BVT ultimately helped him escape. But since he fled to Moscow, there is every reason to believe that his fleeing was set up by the Russian intelligence agency network in Austria and Germany.

On December 8, 2022, the Wirecard trial began. Thousands of shareholders and clients lost a total of 20 billion euros - that's at how much Wirecard was estimated before the abrubt bankruptcy, not counting the missing several billion from the accounts of the company itself. The bankruptcy became one of the most high-profile economic showdowns in Germany’s history over the last 80 years. Former Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel and her then deputy and head of the Ministry of Finance, now Chancellor Olaf Scholz, were forced to testify as part of the parliamentary investigation of this high-profile case.

One of the most interesting facts in the case was the discovery that among the members of Wirecard's board of directors was Russian national Anastasia Lauterbach, who was also previously a member of the board of directors of the Russian First Cargo Company (PGK), a large-scale property complex that managed rolling stock on the Russian railways. This is an important infrastructure business, which is difficult to manage without the participation of security services. At Wirecard, Lauterbach was (coincidentally) responsible for compliance and exposing financial abuse.

Anastasia Lauterbach, member of Wirecard's board of directors

Thus, in supposedly "corruption-free" Europe, under the watchful eye of Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, the Russian special services set up a nest of human assets that cost depositors more than 22 billion euros, of which 2 billion was stolen. It is possible that the stolen funds went to the villas and overseas wallets of Russian intelligence officials.

Alleged GRU agent, Austrian citizen Jan Marsalek, probably with the help of other GRU agents in Austria, defied the investigation and settled in Moscow. And all this is not for the sake of pushing NATO to the borders of 1997, as Vladimir Putin declared, but for mere "Gescheft".

Another SVR general and his son, an "epic hero"

Back in September 2018, a massive scam exposure, the Dubai Papers, swept through several French media. Documents released by journalists confirmed the existence of an international tax evasion network in Dubai (UAE), which used the Emirati investment fund, Hélin International.

The central figure in the papers was a Russian citizen living in Switzerland, a 37-year-old Oleksiy Korotaev, son of the SVR General Aleksey Aleksandrovich Korotaev.

Aleksey Alekseevich Korotaev

Ambitious financier and young owner of a European football club, Oleksiy Korotaev Jr. already in 2014 registered in Mauritius an asset management company Private Kapital Partner Asset Management, which became part of the schemes of the Emirati Helin International. Later, its activities were put to a halt by the regulatory authorities.

Apparently, the son's capabilities were of interest to the father, who, according to open sources, was servicing a contract between Russia and Egypt for the supply of aircraft worth a total of 3.5 billion dollars. With the help of financial schemes, distribution of kickbacks from this deal was supposed to be managed and expenses for bribes and related costs of SVR operations were to be covered.

For example, according to another French online publication, in 2016, about 2 billion dollars was transferred from the accounts of Nchi Private & Investment Bank (Djibouti), which may also have a connection with the Korotaevs, using the accounts and companies from the orbit of Helin International. Journalists claim that U.S. law enforcement agencies are investigating that particular transaction.

Due to suspicious activities, Korotayev Jr.'s partners at Helin International accused him of illegally signing a check for 18 million euros, which led to his arrest on February 10, 2017 and a prison sentence of up to three years.

After only six months, he was released after paying a simple fine of 2,000 euros, after which he put forward a counterclaim against his partners, accusing them of abuse and signature forgery, and also tried to gain access to the fund's money. To this end, he asked for help from another partner – the banker of Iranian origin, Hedayatollah Bakhtari, who is also the lucky holder of a passport of a citizen of Ukraine and, at the same time, the owner of the smallest Ukrainian banking institution, Alpari Bank.

Hedayatollah Bakhtari at the signing of the framework agreement on the development of solar energy in Ukraine (second from the left)

According to journalists, in March 2022, the Ukrainian wife of the Iranian, Anastasia Abramova, using the Union Offshore company, tried to gain access to the fund’s money in one of the Emirati banks, explaining that, allegedly, Korotaev himself had entitled her to carry out transactions on behalf of individual clients of Helin International.

From money laundering to murders — business of Russian intelligence

Among all this variety of names, companies, banks, and schemes, SVR General Korotaev Sr. is of particular interest. The only official mention of him is in the interrogation protocol of the former Minister of Energy of the Russian Federation Igor Yusufov. In early 2019, ex-Minister Yusufov stood as a witness in the trial by the Moscow District Military Court in the cases of numerous murders committed by the gang led by Aslan Hagiyev (Djako).

Igor Yusufov at the opening of the Wadan Yards shipyards

Among other contract killings, the hearing considered the episode involving the shooting of Russian businessman Andrey Burlakov due to the conflict over control of the European shipyards Wadan Yards, the real owner of which could be Yusufov himself.

During the inquiry of the ally Burlakov’s murder, ex-minister Yusufov said he had been introduced to Burlakov in May 2008 by Aleksey Korotaev, whom he knew as an SVR general.

As for the contract killings of Russian businessmen by Russian mobsters and spies, this doesn’t surprise anyone today. However, the chain of connections between the son of the SVR general, the owner of the Ukrainian Alpari Bank and his Ukrainian wife is really a bit confusing.

One way or another, the issue of money laundering by Russian special services on an industrial scale in various jurisdictions is only gaining relevance, especially with the intensive development of electronic means of payment and the use of cryptocurrencies. After all, contrary to what Vladimir Putin and Sergey Naryshkin say, Russian intelligence is not about a cold mind and a heart of fire, but about a paw that is constantly reaching for dirty money.

Dmytro Zolotukhin

* The point of view of the author may not reflect the position of the agency

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