After Alexander Perepilichnyy fell dead while jogging outside London, US intelligence concluded it was likely “assassinated by direct order“From Russian President Vladimir Putin” or his relatives “. Perepilichnyy had exposed the Magnitsky Fraud, a $ 230 million tax scam by corrupt Russian government officials two years earlier, which became a critical point in US-Russian relations and led to sanctions against Russian officials.
Perepilichnyy was aware of the scam because he facilitated it, helping to bleach funds stolen from Swiss bank accounts. He has worked with all kinds of dubious clients, from the alleged Magnitsky fraud leader to backers for the Syrian Assad regime, which used chemical weapons on civilians. And even after Perepilichnyy’s death in 2012, a company he founded, Financial Bridge, would be plunged into one of the biggest dirty money fiascos in history.
In what has come to be known as the mirror trading scandal, money launderers transferred at least $ 10 billion over four years to some of the world’s most prestigious banks. During that time, there were at least three internal Deutsche Bank alerts regarding Financial Bridge – and over 100 for the mirror trading network. But Deutsche never stopped the flow of illicit funds.
The inside story of how Deutsche kept moving black money and collecting fees – exposed today in FinCEN files, a joint investigation between BuzzFeed News and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists – reveals new information about one of the biggest financial crimes in history.
But it also shines a light on how illicit cash is being diverted from the former Soviet republics to the traditional banking system. Perepilichnyy and Financial Bridge are the main examples.
After Perepilichnyy transformed from money launderer to whistleblower, Financial Bridge did not disappear – instead, he found new life in the criminal world. In October 2012 – a month before Perepilichnyy’s death – it was taken over by two anonymous shell companies.
Shortly thereafter, Financial Bridge informed another bank it held accounts with, Danske Bank, that it had two new “beneficial owners”, according to documents obtained by L’Espresso and ICIJ.
One was a security consultant named Igor Marakin. US authorities have linked a company he controls to the Russian Mafia.
Financial Bridge has been a key part of the mirror trading scandal. The money laundering gang moved illicit cash for criminals and terrorist financiers, according to a secret US government report.
If the banks had acted forcefully in the wake of Perepilichnyy’s death, they might have put the brakes on Financial Bridge’s plans and perhaps even ended one of the biggest financial scandals of the decade of the years before it takes place.
The scheme was discovered four years later in 2016, and the following year, authorities in the US and UK fined Deutsche Bank $ 630 million for its role. Mirror transactions are permitted by law, but they can be manipulated for illegal purposes such as money laundering.
A spokesperson for Deutsche noted that the mirror trading network “was a criminal act of individuals” and said that US and European authorities praised the bank for its “exceptional cooperation” in their investigations. Since the scandal broke, the bank has “committed significant resources” to ending money laundering, the spokesperson said.
Danske Bank declined to comment on Financial Bridge, but acknowledged his own 200 billion euro money laundering scandal. “We have been too slow to realize the magnitude of the problems and to close them,” Philippe Vollot, its chief compliance officer, said in a statement.
Marakin’s alleged role in the vast mirror trading network is exposed in a secret intelligence report, written by analysts at the US Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network and shared by BuzzFeed News with ICIJ.
The report, labeled “Law Enforcement Sensitive”, warned that the network “highlights a vulnerability in the global securities market for money laundering.” Using a mix of bank data and other intelligence, he detailed how the network is said to have conducted transactions for billions of dollars, some on behalf of “illicit actors”.
At the heart of the system, the report said, were four Russians who used a series of banks and brokerage houses to transfer “billions of dollars a year” for “fees of up to five percent.” According to the report, they used Russian rubles to buy shares in large companies, then immediately moved the shares to Europe and sold them for dollars, euros or pounds sterling, which allowed them to change large sums in foreign currency without the usual control of the authorities.
Two of the four Russians, Alexei Kulikov and Oleg Belousov, had stakes in Promsberbank, where President Putin’s cousin Igor was a director. Millions of dollars have been stolen from the bank. Promsberbank bankruptcy documents show money was siphoned off into the mirror trading network.
Kulikov was jailed for his role in the Promsberbank robbery. It is not known where Belousov is. Neither responded to requests for comment.
Another alleged key figure in the scheme, Russian financier Andrei Babenko, is now in Israel where he worked in the cryptocurrency industry. The fourth, Andrey Gorbatov, is in Moscow, according to his LinkedIn profile. Babenko and Gorbatov have denied any involvement in the network in interviews with BuzzFeed News.
Marakin was a director or owner of at least three companies in the mirror trading network, including one that sent money to a company controlled by Lazar Shaybazian, which was excluded from the US financial system in 2012 for his work with Vladislav ” Blonde ”Leontyev, described by US authorities as a Russian gangster and high level drug trafficker.
The government said Shaybazian and Leontyev were part of a group called “Brothers’ Circle”, a network of Eurasian criminals linked to drugs, human trafficking and violence around the world.
Shaybazian did not respond to requests for comment. Leontyev said he had been wrongly targeted by US sanctions and did not know Shaybazian.
All of these transactions took place behind closed doors while another saga unfolded in public: Was Perepilichnyy murdered and, if so, was this murder related to his revelations about Russian money laundering?
In 2017, a BuzzFeed News survey revealed that the US intelligence community had “great confidence” that Perepilichnyy was assassinated by agents linked to Russia.
The coroner’s inquest, which had been delayed for years by UK government demands to keep information of his death secret, ultimately revealed that Perepilichnyy had “probably” died of natural causes but that it was not possible to rule out that he had been killed.
The proceedings were overshadowed by revelations of an inadequate police investigation into Perepilichnyy’s death. Police admitted to losing hard drives containing financial data belonging to the financier. Lawyers argued during the investigation that the campaigns could have shed more light on the risks Perepilichnyy faces.
Earlier this year, during a UK government review of Russian interference in the country, officials testified in parliament about a series of suspicious deaths, including that of Perepilichnyy. But the evidence was withheld from the public for reasons of national security.
Igor Marakin did not respond to requests for comment. Images online show him partying and learning to fly. ●