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Aliyev lands a spot alongside Ablyazov in the money-laundering rogue’s gallery

30 july 2015, 13:41
0

For the second time in six months a notorious Kazakh has become a poster child for international money laundering.

In early spring it was Mukhtar Ablyazov. Now it is the late Rakhat Aliyev.

Both are accused of laundering hundreds of millions of dollars in ill-gotten gains by buying trophy British properties.

The disclosures have embarrassed Britain. The one about Aliyev, coming only five months after the Ablyazov revelation, may finally force Parliament to pass legislation that prevents overseas oligarchs, gangsters and other unsavory characters from using London to wash their dirty money.

Albyazov, the former chairman of Kazakhstan’s BTA, is in a prison in southern France awaiting extradition to Russia on charges of stealing billions of dollars from the bank’s operation there. He is alleged to have stolen even more billions from the bank’s Kazakh operation and hundreds of millions from its Ukrainian operation. Both countries have also asked for his return to face trial.

In March, British news organizations made Aliyev’s London-property money laundering a highlight of stories they did about a Transparency International report on the problem.

Journalists in Britain and elsewhere have reported that Aliyev is believed to have used his position as deputy director of Kazakhstan’s KNB security service to amass hundreds of millions of dollars through bribes and extortion. The onetime son-in-law of Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev is suspected of laundering much of that fortune through purchases of British properties, journalists say.

Both British and international news organizations have smacked their lips over the stories about Ablyazov and Aliyev’s money laundering, and have made the accounts as scandalous as possible, which of course has done nothing for Kazakhstan’s image.

A key feature of the stories about has been naming a trophy property that Ablyazov and Aliyev have either purchased or are believed to have purchased. That has increased the outrage factor over the money laundering, not only among Brits but among many other folks as well. And the heightened outrage has led to shriller calls for Parliament to do something about it.

In Ablyazov’s case the landmark is the $22-million, seven-bedroom Carlton House on London’s Billionaire Row.

Ablyazov, who fled England for France in May 2013 to avoid serving time in a British prison for contempt of court, denied owning Carlton House, which was purchased through a maze of overseas shell companies. British courts determined after months of negotiating the maze that he was the owner, however.

In Aliyev’s case the landmark is a combined $213 million worth of properties along London’s legendary Baker Street.

British newspapers have given their stories extra oomph by pointing out that one of the properties – 221 B Baker Street – was the address that novelist Arthur Conan Doyle used as the address of his fictional detective Sherlock Holmes.

Readers of the stories couldn’t help but appreciate the irony of one of the world’s most notorious international criminals – Aliyev – owning a property connected with one of the world’s greatest crime fighters – Holmes.

The London-based transparency organization Global Witness has been trying to nail down the ownership of the Baker Street properties to dramatize Britain’s money-laundering epidemic.   

It has yet to establish definitive proof that Aliyev owned those properties and a $14.5 million mansion in London’s posh Highgate area.

It’s close, however.

Like the Ablyazov-owned Carlton House, the Baker Street properties were purchased through layers of overseas shell companies – the technique of choice for today’s high-rolling money launderers.

Global Witness has traced the purchases of the Baker Street and Highgate properties to associates of Aliyev, which is just one step away from putting them at his door.

What it found was that a company in the British Virgin Islands, a notorious tax-avoidance and money-laundering haven, bought the properties through four British subsidiaries between 2008 and 2010.

The current director of three of the four subsidiaries is Massimiliano Dall’Osso, an Italian who is managing director of a German metals company linked to Aliyev and Aliyev’s second wife, Elnara Shorazova.

A Kazakh – Mukhamed Ali Kurmanbayev – was director of the fourth subsidiary for a time, Global Witness reported. A LinkedIn profile lists Kurmanbayev as a London-based lawyer who is familiar with “real estate and other investment transactions in Europe, Kazakhstan, Russia and the Middle East.”

Underscoring Global Witness’ contention that Aliyev was laundering money by buying British property is the fact that Malta, where he lived for a time, froze his assets there. Maltese officials alleged that he had used the country’s financial system to launder $156 million he had obtained through bribes while at the KNB.

A number of other countries in the European Union also were investigating Aliyev for financial crimes.

The reason that Ablyazov, Aliyev and other rich foreigners can launder money so easily in Britain is that the country’s law exempts overseas-registered companies from having to disclose the ultimate owners of British properties they own.

The many countries that facilitate money laundering -- such as the British Virgin Islands and the Cayman Islands – either do not require the names of the ultimate owners of companies they register, or refuse to disclose the owners’ names if asked.

That means that in many cases Britain is unable to learn the ultimate owner of a property purchased through an overseas-registered shell company, or series of companies.

In contrast, British law does require disclosure of the ultimate owner of a company registered in Britain.

Britain’s lack of an ultimate-owner-disclosure requirement for overseas-registered companies had led to London becoming the money-laundering capital of the world.

Spear’s magazine, which writes about wealth management and luxury lifestyles for the filthy rich living in Britain, thinks that 40 percent of the estimated $1 billion a month pouring into London from overseas is tainted -- proceeds from bribery, embezzlement, drugs and other crimes.

Global Witness says $190 billion worth of property in England and Wales is owned by companies registered outside Britain. Much of it is high end.

Coming so soon after the Ablyazov money-laundering stories, the Aliyev revelations are putting pressure on British lawmakers to close the property-registration loophole allowing ill-gotten overseas gains to be money-laundered in Britain.

More parliamentarians have begun discussing amending the registration legislation to require disclosure of the ultimate owners of all British properties, whether they’re registered in Britain or overseas, news organizations have reported.

If they do that, then something good might finally come out of the excesses that Ablyazov and Aliyev engaged in.

 


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