In recent years the European Parliament has made great efforts in addressing issues of corruption and graft. However, despite these moves forward, there remains much to be done, starting with the matter of money laundering, and the ease with which wanted criminals and fugitives can find sanctuary in Europe.
Europe is currently the base of one of the most successful – in criminal terms – crime syndicates in the world, that headed by former Kazakh bank chief and international fugitive Mukhtar Ablyazov, who resides in France, reportedly dividing his time between Paris and Nice.
He has served prison sentences in his home country and in France, has a 22 month term in an English jail awaiting him should he ever return to that country, as well as outstanding convictions for murder and corruption, again in Kazakhstan. Add to this outstanding extradition warrants from Ukraine and Russia, and ongoing legal actions in the U.S. courts, again for money laundering, and a picture is emerging.
The fact that his cohorts, all on the run and all facing charges of money laundering themselves, amongst other charges, are residing in European states, should raise questions.
Intelligence sources have recently uncovered the fact that Ablyazov has acquired a 75% stake in a French payment card processing company, Creacard S.A., the largest prepaid bank card company in France and owns the branded payment card systems (PCS) and PCS Mastercard.
Prepaid credit cards are a major tool for money launderers: anonymous, and a godsend for those who wish to both hide their income and cover their tracks. They are much favoured by tax evaders and terrorists alike: Salah Abdeslam, the man behind the Paris terrorist attacks of November 13th 2015 in which 131 innocent peoples lost their lives used prepaid credit cards to pay for hotel rooms and other services prior to the murders.
In 2018 the European Parliament set out to address the issue as part of the revision of the Anti-Money Laundering Directive that Parliament approving in April of that year. Speaking at the time, MEP Helga Stevens said “Prepaid credit cards are still used too often by criminals and terrorists today because they guarantee anonymity below certain amounts. Such cards must become traceable, which will of course make their use a lot less attractive”.
The degree to which Ablyazov, accused of embezzling more than $7 billion from Kazakhstan’s BTA Bank, the country’s biggest financial institution, has integrated his criminal activities into the mainstream financial services sector is illustrated by the fact that in 2014, Creacard S.A. entered into a partnership agreement with Mastercard for its prepaid cards and the corresponding mobile wallet application.
This particular area of Ablyazov’s activities was aided by his son-in-law and fellow fugitive from justice, Ilyas Khrapunov, currently believed to be residing in Geneva along with his father Viktor, a former mayor of Almaty. Both father and son are wanted by Interpol, having outstanding extradition warrants in parallel with those against Ablyazov himself. The two families are inextricably linked.
The head of Creacard S.A. is one Lloyd LaMarca, an associate of Ilyas Khrapunov, and a fellow citizen of Switzerland.
Ilyas Khrapunov has been named by the United States District Court (Southern District of New York) in the corruption trial of another Ablyazov cohort, convicted criminal Felix Sater, as being involved in laundering Ablyazov’s ill gotten gains.
“Felix Sater is a notorious New York “businessman” and two-time felon who, along with wanted criminals Mukhtar Ablyazov and Ilyas Khrapunov, and others known and unknown, participated in an international criminal conspiracy to launder and conceal at least $440 million that was stolen from the Plaintiffs in Kazakhstan, and to evade lawful asset freezing and receivership orders issued by the courts of the United Kingdom”, court records dated March 25, 2019 state.
Ilyas Khrapunov, court papers state, “was laundering more than $3 million in stolen funds through the Trump SoHo project in New York, developed by Sater and Bayrock LLC.149. Sater was a partner in Bayrock LLC and held at least a fifty percent profit interest in the company and its subsidiaries”.
The court also reveals that “in or about November 2012, a shell company named Telford International Ltd. (“Telford”), with accounts at FBME, attempted to transfer over $10 million to accounts in Luxembourg at Rothschild bank in the name of Triadou SPV S.A. Triadou was another shell company controlled by Ilyas, and a subsidiary of Ilyas’s company SDG”.
That a money laundering crime syndicate should be attracted to Luxembourg should, unfortunately, come as a surprise to no-one. That one of the key figures in the sector should be allowed to live freely in an EU capital despite the multiple warrants in his name, and that a so-called “human rights” NGO, the Open Dialogue Foundation, itself implicated in money laundering offences in the UK, should be allowed free access in Brussels and Strasbourg to the EU institutions to lobby on Ablyazov’s behalf, presenting him as a “persecuted” political figure, surely undermines all the good work the European Parliament professes to do in combatting fraud and corruption in Europe.