By Andrei Skvarsky.
At least 16bn roubles ($2.4m) was taken out of Russia last year through a simple money-laundering scheme that had a practically unchallengeable cloak of legality over it due to the manipulation of the country’s arbitration courts, according to Russian business daily Kommersant.
The scheme centred on debt collection scams.
A foreign firm would file a suit against a Russian entity with a Russian arbitration court demanding payment under a supposed debt agreement.
The defendant would agree, and the court would issue a collection ruling, which the claimant would take to the Federal Bailiffs Service to enforce. The latter would seize the money and have it forwarded via a bank in Russia it to a bank account abroad owned by the claimant.
“Technically, this scheme doesn’t break the law, the courts and the Federal Bailiffs Service act strictly within their jurisdiction, while banks have no formal reason to qualify this operation as suspicious and try to block it because it is based on a court ruling,” Kommersant quoted the press service of the Russian central bank as saying.
Altogether, courts approved transfers of more than 37bn roubles ($5.5m) in 2016 in response to suits that had indications of such schemes, the central bank said. The 16bn roubles that is known to have left Russia made up more than 10 per cent of “the entire volume of dubious operations that were found out during the year”, Kommersant quoted the central bank press service as saying.
According to Kommersant, arbitration courts are not authorised to vet such deals for authenticity, the Bailiffs Service cannot question court rulings, while banks have no other choice than fulfilling transfer orders from the Bailiffs Service.
However, according to the central bank, non-judicial inquiries have shown that quite often litigants in such cases stated fake legal addresses, were not involved in business activities they claimed to be, and that their bank accounts recorded movements of sums that were negligible in comparison to the amount of debt stated in their agreement.
According to Kommersant, the tax collection type of scam it was describing was an update of the “Moldovan scheme”, a laundering trick that was used a few years ago to shift money from Russia to Moldova through Moldovan courts but the Russian Bailiffs Service was not part of the game.