MOSCOW, July 8 (RIA Novosti) – Russian police have uncovered a Moscow-based criminal gang of more than 400 people suspected of illegally transferring 36 billion rubles ($1.1 billion) out of Russia, the Interior Ministry said Monday.
Several commercial banks and about 100 Russian and foreign companies – which police did not name – were used to launder the money abroad via "one-day companies" and real estate purchases in Cyprus and the Baltic states, according to a statement.
In over five years of operations, the suspects charged clients a 2 percent commission, earning themselves a total profit of about 575 million rubles ($17.3 million), police said.
Even Russian officials acknowledge that illegal money transfers are a significant drain on the Russian economy. Then head of the Central Bank, Sergei Ignatyev, said during a candid interview in February that $49 billion was sent out of the country illegally last year – about 2.5 percent of Russia’s GDP.
Money moved in this way “could be payment for the delivery of drugs… [or] it could be payment for illegal imports… bribes and kickbacks for officials,” he said at the time.
Police said Monday that they had detained the seven leaders of the group including a 42-year old man thought to be the head of the operation, conducted 85 searches and confiscated more than 1 billion rubles ($30 million). They did not specify the origin of the laundered money.
The suspects used one-day companies (called odnodnevniki in Russian) as part of their scheme, police said. Such companies, which are set-up for as little as a few hours, are frequently used by launderers in Russia to disguise the origin of money, and make it difficult for law enforcement authorities to follow financial trails.
Of the 3.9 million companies registered in Russia just 2 million are “real” organizations, according to the Central Bank. Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov has said that one-day companies deprive the government of up to 1 trillion rubles ($30 billion) in tax revenues every year.
Large-scale fraud operations are unlikely to be able to function without assistance from corrupt officials, according to experts. Ignatyev hinted at such official involvement in his February comments when he said that almost half of the money illegally transferred out of Russia in 2012, some $25 billion, was removed under the direction of one “well organized” group.
Updated to change headline and throughout text to say those caught are only suspects