A team of 24 U.S. experts, including FBI agents, have arrived in Cyprus to investigate reports implicating the island in sanctions busting by Russian oligarchs, Government spokesperson Konstantinos Letymbiotis confirmed on Monday.
They will collaborate with local authorities to examine 29 cases related to sanctions breaches by Russian oligarchs, allegedly aided by local fixers, as reported by the police.
Cyprus faced criticism for allegedly assisting Russian oligarchs in evading sanctions, leading to the US and UK imposing sanctions on numerous Cypriot entities and individuals.
Cyprus found itself in hot water once again following an investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) dubbed “Cyprus Confidential”.
The exposé shed light on how financial fixers, allegedly including PwC, helped Russian oligarchs evade sanctions imposed by the UK and the US, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“President Nikos Christodoulides requested the assistance of the 24 specialists from the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN),” said Letymbiotis.
This marks the second visit by US sanctions experts to Cyprus this year, following an initial one in April after the imposition of the first sanctions.
Meanwhile, the European Commission and EU parliament members expressed their intention to closely monitor the investigations, criticising Cyprus for allegedly rushing to aid Russia after the sanctions and being complicit.
Attorney General George Savvides has in previous days assured thorough investigations into the allegations, acknowledging the challenges in convicting sanctions evaders. The allegations emerged through the reports published under “Cyprus Confidential.”
Cyprus Confidential claims that in 2014, Moody’s estimated that $31 bln of Russian assets were parked on the island.
Investigators reviewed documents leaked from Cypriot financial service providers to understand how those firms helped wealthy Russians restructure their funds and sometimes hide them altogether.
Nicosia has cracked down on those named by Washington and London for allegedly helping Russian oligarchs bypass sanctions on Moscow because of the Ukraine war.
The government said it has taken action against money laundering and sanctions-busting since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022.
From late 2018, credit institutions have severed ties with 42,728 shell companies and closed 125,782 suspicious bank accounts, the Central Bank of Cyprus said.