Cyprus vows to prosecute Russian oligarch ‘enablers’

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Cyprus is committed to prosecuting any Cypriots accused by the US and Britain of enabling Russian oligarchs to bypass sanctions over Ukraine, government spokesperson Constantinos Letymbiotis said Tuesday.

Ten Cypriot-born ‘financial fixers’ have been sanctioned by the UK and the US for allegedly helping Russian oligarchs hide their assets following sanctions imposed on Moscow for invading Ukraine.

The UK government has accused two Cypriots of allegedly knowingly assisting the billionaire Russian oligarchs Roman Abramovich and Alisher Usmanov in hiding their assets.

Cypriot-based companies and six Russians who received Cyprus passports were named on British and American sanctions lists last week for facilitating business transactions of those already under sanctions.

“It will be investigated whether criminal offences have been committed and whether European Union sanctions were breached by Cypriots who appear to have facilitated Russian oligarchs,” Letymbiotis told state broadcaster CyBC.

He said it is also being investigated when the violations identified by the American and British authorities were committed.

Letymbiotis said once the lists were made public, Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides contacted senior US officials to request evidence against those named so they could be investigated at home.

Nicosia is also seeking information from the British government.

“We look to see if criminal offences were committed, and we are obligated to enforce EU sanctions on Russians.

“We need to protect our good name as a trustworthy financial centre,” said Letymbiotis.

Cyprus is home to a large Russian diaspora and companies of Russian interest.

Head of the Cyprus Bar Association, Christos Clerides, said there was no evidence of Cypriot lawyers violating sanctions imposed on Russia after being audited.

He told the CyBC the approach by the US and Britain was “excessive” and not one adopted by Brussels.

The UK Foreign Office said that in response to an unprecedented package of international sanctions, oligarchs “scrambled to shield their wealth with the help of financial fixers, offshore trusts, shell companies, and even using their family members”.

It issued asset freezes and travel bans on Cypriot accountant Demetris Ioannides and his company and lawyer Christodoulos Vassiliades.