It Won The World Cup, but Pressure on Moscow Remains

Putin and Russian oligarchs under scrutiny. Nicosia has come under intense pressure of late by the US authorities

Moscow recently “won the game” by organising the World Cup; the best World Cup of all times, according to FIFA president Gianni Infantino.

Such successes, however, provide temporary positive publicity and cannot improve the country’s image, nor can they resolve the major issues that are occupying international public opinion. A series of fronts remain open for the Kremlin, the most important being that with the USA. Just when the modern world thought the cold war was a thing of the past, recent developments point to the contrary. At the same time, even Greco-Russian relations appear to have soured. The recent Donald Trump – Vladimir Putin meeting in Helsinki merely confirmed the demands of the West to the Kremlin on a variety of issues.

Among other, the issue of the much-debated black list of the US State Department is a pressing matter. The so-called “Putin list”, which includes Russian government officials and wealthy oligarchs or legal entities, was created by the US as part of efforts to impose sanctions on Moscow due to its alleged involvement in the 2016 US elections.

The whole debate has Cypriot dimensions of course. Nicosia has come under intense pressure of late by the US authorities, over its links and ties with Russian oligarchs. We note the case of Paul Manafort, who was the brains behind Trump’s election campaign and who was criticised over his links with Russian officials and money laundering, in excess of 30 million dollars; a sum that according to legal documents passed through the Seychelles, Grenadines, Saint Vincent and Cyprus.

The Guardian story links another controversial oligarch to Cyprus

The American black list included Russian oligarchs who maintain ties with Cyprus, such as major shareholder at Bank of Cyprus Viktor Vekselberg and Cypriot passport holder Oleg Deripaska. As it has previously been reported, Vekselberg, who owns a 9.3% stake in Bank of Cyprus through the Lamesa Group, is currently in the process of selling his stake. Oleg Deripaska on the other hand, a Russian aluminium tycoon, was featured in a number of British press reports, with the Guardian writing: “EU citizenship for sale as Russian oligarch buys Cypriot passport”. According to the British press, Oleg Deripaska had links with the former associate of the US President, Paul Manafort.

At the same time, there are many cases of Russian oligarchs who are under investigation, even though their names were not included in the American black list, which is constantly being updated. These Russians are implicated in cases with a Cypriot hue, which have occupied the international press and court rooms.

One such case is that of Russian oligarch Alexander Shchukin, who has repeatedly occupied the international and Cypriot press lately, regarding alleged transfer of massive sums from Russia to the United Kingdom, via offshore companies in Cyprus. The supposed methods employed by the Russian oligarch to bring Russian coal mines under his control have also been hotly debated. According to the international press reports– including by British media of international scope The Guardian and Financial Times – and based on a number of the cases that are under investigation, Shchukin allegedly acquired coal mines under controversial circumstances, and then is said that he transferred some of them to offshore companies in Cyprus that were said to be owned by Shchukin’s close friendly and family environment. According to The Guardian story, a source ”close to the family” of the oligarch is denying the allegations but ”accepted that the billionaire is a senior manager in companies linked to them”.  The website Report News Today also makes reference to Cyprus, linking Shchukin and his close familial circle with the transfer of massive sums from Russia to the United Kingdom, through offshore companies registered in Cyprus. Our investigation hasn’t confirmed that yet.

The Cypriot authorities are closely monitoring the developments and assure that Cyprus is systematically carrying out checks to deal in the best possible way with the phenomenon of tax evasion, suspicious business transactions and money laundering. It is reminded that the Central Bank of Cyprus has already informed the banks in a circular that it will proceed with a revision of its decree on preventing and combating money laundering and the financing of terrorism, and that a new definition for shell-companies will be adopted. This development has riled the Cyprus Chamber of Commerce and Industry, to the extent that following a recent meeting of a delegation with the President of the Republic of Cyprus it publicly expressed its concern over the possible impact on the services sector.