Britain’s high street banks processed nearly $740m from a vast money-laundering operation run by Russian criminals with links to the Russian government and the KGB, the Guardian can reveal.
HSBC, the Royal Bank of Scotland, Lloyds, Barclays and Coutts are among 17 banks based in the UK, or with branches here, that are facing questions over what they knew about the international scheme and why they did not turn away suspicious money transfers.
Documents seen by the Guardian show that at least $20bn appears to have been moved out of Russia during a four-year period between 2010 and 2014. The true figure could be $80bn, detectives believe.
One senior figure involved in the inquiry said the money from Russia was “obviously either stolen or with criminal origin”.
Investigators are still trying to identify some of the wealthy and politically influential Russians behind the operation, known as “the Global Laundromat”.
They estimate a group of about 500 people were involved. These include oligarchs, Moscow bankers, and figures working for or connected to the FSB, the successor spy agency to the KGB.
Igor Putin, the cousin of Russia’s president, Vladimir, sat on the board of a Moscow bank which held accounts involved in the fraud.
British-registered companies played a prominent role in this extensive money-laundering network. The real owners of most of the firms used in the scheme remain secret, however, because of the anonymity provided by controversial offshore laws.
The Global Laundromat banking records were obtained by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and Novaya Gazeta from sources who wish to remain anonymous. OCCRP shared the data with the Guardian and media partners in 32 countries.
The documents include details of about 70,000 banking transactions, including 1,920 that went through UK banks and 373 via US banks.