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 revealed. 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. $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. The money from Russia was “obviously either stolen or with criminal origin”. 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.
Detectives have unravelled a conspiracy that involved billions of dollars being sent from suspected criminals in Russia via accounts in Latvia and Moldova held at banks notorious for their exposure to money-laundering scams. The trail led investigators to 96 countries and to a network of anonymously owned firms, most of them registered at Companies House in London. Most of the 21 core companies under scrutiny have been dissolved. The scale of the operation has staggered law enforcement officials. The records show British banks and foreign banks with offices in London processed $738.1m in transactions apparently involving criminal money from Moscow.
HSBC processed $545.3m, mostly routed through its Hong Kong branch. The troubled Royal Bank of Scotland – which is 71% owned by the UK government – handled $113.1m. Coutts – used by the Queen and owned by RBS – accepted $32.8m worth of payments via its office in Zurich, Switzerland. Coutts is winding down its Swiss operation and was last month fined by regulators for money laundering in a different case. Other high street banks that appear in the Laundromat data include Barclays, NatWest and Lloyds. NatWest – also owned by RBS – allowed through $1.1m. In the US, big banks processed more than $63.7m. They include Citibank ($37m) and Bank of America ($14m).