UK law enforcement agencies and financial regulators are investigating revelations made by the Guardian newspaper that Britain’s largest banks were involved in a multibillion-dollar Russian money laundering scheme.
A total of 17 British banks – including Barclays, Coutts, HSBC, Lloyds and the Royal Bank of Scotland – have been accused of failing to stop suspicious money transfers despite being aware of the alleged international scam.
Documents handed to the Guardian by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) suggest that British financial institutions processed nearly $740 million (€685 million) on behalf of Russian organised crime groups with links to the Kremlin and Russia’s security services.
Money moved as part of the scheme, known as the Global Laundromat, was clearly “either stolen or with criminal origin”, a source close to the investigation told the paper.
All of the British banks implicated in the scandal have claimed they have checks and balances in place to ensure that these types of transactions are not processed, and that they fully comply with anti-money laundering legislation.
Two unidentified American banks are said to have questioned the transfers and refused to process them.
It was revealed last night that Deutsche Bank, whose clients include US President Donald Trump, also played a significant role in the scheme, acting as a “correspondent bank” for laundered cash. The lender told the Guardian it had significantly strengthened its systems and controls.
“The bank has comprehensively reviewed its client onboarding and know-your-client processes and where necessary is exiting higher-risk client relationships and markets,” a Deutsche spokesperson said.
Discussing the scandal in an interview with the Guardian, the head of the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA)’s money laundering unit said Britain is struggling to prevent huge sums of criminal cash entering the country due to a lack of cooperation from Russian authorities.
David Little told the paper: “The amount of Russian money coming into the UK is a concern. One, because of the volume. Two, we don’t know where it is coming from. We don’t have enough cooperation [from the Russian side] to establish that. They won’t tell us whether it comes from the proceeds of crime.”
Separately, Russian reporters have said they have uncovered further details of the complex system by which dirty money was allegedly transferred illegally out of the country.
The OCCRP said reporters from Moscow newspaper Novaya Gazeta had obtained bank records that showed how billions were moved out of Russia through more than 100 bank accounts in Eastern Europe.
“Law enforcement in Moldova, Latvia, the United Kingdom, and Russia continue to investigate the Laundromat, but attempts to bring those responsible to justice and to recover the money have been hampered in part by the reluctance of Russian officials to cooperate,” the OCCRP said on its website.