Sanctioned Russians To Get Millions After Veselnitskaya Plot

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LONDON — Switzerland will return millions of stolen dollars to sanctioned Russians accused of participating in one of the world’s most notorious frauds, according to a court order viewed by The Daily Beast.

Swiss authorities have rejected an appeal against the decision to return the stolen loot, despite knowing their investigation into the crime had been corrupted by a Russian influence operation orchestrated by notorious Trump Tower lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.

Veselnitskaya held secret meetings with an adviser to the Swiss Federal Prosecutor’s Office, who was fired and convicted after it emerged he had been given lavish Russian vacations – including a bear hunt – while working on the case. On one such trip, he was accompanied by Swiss prosecutor Patrick Lamon and Attorney General Michael Lauber, who posed for a photo with senior Russian officials.

All three Swiss officials were involved in the investigation of the Magnitsky affair; a $230 million fraud uncovered by Sergei Magnitsky, who was jailed, beaten, and left to die in a prison cell after blowing the whistle on a massive tax scam against Hermitage Capital involving a number of Russian officials.

Since Magnitsky’s death, Bill Browder, the CEO of Hermitage, has led a global campaign for justice, which has succeeded in introducing anti-corruption sanctions in numerous countries, including the US and UK

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Several of the scam’s key players have since been sanctioned under those laws for playing a role in what many Western governments describe as a massive criminal conspiracy. “An organized crime group was involved in serious corruption by embezzling the equivalent of US$230 million in Russian state property,” the British government said.

Those sanctioned include Olga Stepanova, a senior Moscow tax official who signed documents related to the fraud, and her husband, as well as Dmitry Klyuev, a banker whom the British government believes planned the entire fraud.

All three are given cash that has been frozen in Switzerland by officials who were tasked with tracking down the stolen money.

Despite the conclusions reached in London and Washington, D.C., Swiss authorities have agreed with Moscow’s claim that there was no “criminal organization” running the operation, meaning they will not seize the entirety of the funds traced from the frozen Swiss bank. accounts for the massive fraud.

“It would not have been possible to establish the existence of a criminal organization or gang involved in all operations,” reads a Swiss Federal Court order issued Nov. 23 and viewed by The Daily Beast .

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Switzerland will return 55 percent of the frozen money to the Stepanovs, totaling $5.5 million, and 100 percent of the frozen money in Klyuev’s account ($37,673).

They will also refund 99 percent of the money traced to an account belonging to Denis Katsyv, the son of a Moscow government official, who employed Veselnitskaya during her infamous attempt to lobby for the Trump campaign in 2016. She was in New York at the time as part of another lawsuit related to the same $230 million fraud. Katsyv eventually agreed to pay the $6 million to settle the lawsuit alleging that he laundered some of the stolen proceeds through his company Prevezon.

Veselnitskaya was later charged with obstruction of justice when it emerged that she had secretly helped draft a supposedly independent statement from the Russian prosecutor’s office that had been presented to the court during the Prevezon case.

The Swiss, on the other hand, are happy to return $8.1 million to Katsyv.

The dilution of the forfeiture is part of Switzerland’s lax money laundering regulations, which go against United Nations best practice and reduce the amount that can be seized each time the illicit money is funneled through another account .

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Mark Pieth, a former member of the G7’s Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering and head of the economic and organized crime division at the Swiss Federal Office of Justice, said the way the sentence was mitigated reflected the weakness of the Swiss government. system demonstrated. “In short, the main challenge for Swiss prosecutors and courts is to apply a theory that causes the forfeited funds to decrease continuously at every stage of the money laundering process. The Swiss judiciary therefore favors the devious money launderer on top of the general risks this country poses!” he told The Daily Beast.

The court also stripped Hermitage of victim status in the case, meaning the company’s voice can no longer be heard in the trial, even though Swiss officials originally said they opened the investigation because of evidence Hermitage had them submitted.

“With this decision, Switzerland has really gone to the dark side. At a time when everyone is coming hard on Russia, the Swiss are going the other way,” Browder told The Daily Beast.

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