By Stelios Orphanides
President Nicos Anastasiades told members of the European Parliament (MEPs) in a recent letter that their concerns about Cyprus neglecting its obligations in tackling money-laundering as a European Union member were “unjustified”.
He made the statement in a letter on December 18 in response to one sent by 17 MEPs on October 26 urging Cypriot authorities to ditch the island’s cooperation with Russia in a probe against Hermitage Capital founder Bill Browder and instead clamp down on illicit Russian funds.
In Anastasiades’ letter obtained by the Cyprus Business Mail on Wednesday, Anastasiades said: “Cyprus is firmly committed to abide by and fully implement all European Union as well as other international instruments and tools in preventing and combating money laundering activities.”
“To this end, albeit Cyprus being a regional financial centre offering international business facilities, the authorities recognising the dangers for possible abuse for criminal activities including money laundering, have taken all measures, legislative and administrative, both preventing and repressive, adopting all international measures and practices in this area,” the letter added.
Anastasiades said Cypriot authorities had “always acted within the context of the rule of law and respect for human rights in applying the provisions of international instruments, including those for legal (and/or) judicial assistance in criminal matters, and discharging Cyprus’s legal obligations thereunder”.
The MEPs letter was prompted by the Cypriot authorities’ decision to challenge an application filed by Browder against the government’s cooperation with Russia in an investigation against him. The investor-turned-activist is leading a campaign for justice for lawyer Sergey Magnitsky who died in a Russian prison after exposing a $230m (€217m) tax fraud. Russian police officers who Magnitsky implicated in the case arrested and subjected him to torture depriving him of access to medical treatment.
The 17 MEPs lamented that Cyprus had not prosecuted those involved in the theft and complained that the island’s authorities “stalled or significantly delayed mutual legal assistance requests” submitted by other European countries which investigated the case.
Browder resorted to a Cypriot court in September requesting an emergency injunction in an attempt to prevent Cypriot authorities cooperating with Russia in the investigation against him and his associate Ivan Cherkasov. The US-born investor who is now a UK citizen insists that the Russian investigation against him is politically motivated. The Cypriot government froze the cooperation with Russia pending the outcome of the court proceedings, which in turn angered Russia.
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) asked member states four years ago not to cooperate with Russia in its proceedings against Browder and instead follow the US example in adopting punitive measures against those responsible for Magnitsky’s death. Interpol repeatedly ignored Russian arrest warrants against him.
Anastasiades’ letter was also forwarded to European Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, Taxation and Customs Pierre Moscovici, European Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality Věra Jourová, the presidents of the European Central Bank (ECB) Mario Draghi and the European Banking Authority (EBA) Andrea Enria and Santiago Otamendi, president of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).
In it, Anastasiades said that Moneyval, the Council of Europe’s money-laundering watchdog, evaluated Cyprus’s -money laundering practices “with very positive results”.
The Cypriot president who in late October met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow in an attempt to strengthen Cyprus’s economic ties to Russia, said that the island had neither “stalled nor significantly delayed” cooperation with other European Union countries in probing the Magnitsky case. Putin told Anastasiades that he looked forward in a satisfactory outcome of Browder’s request which would allow Cyprus to cooperate in the future with Russia, the largest client of the Cypriot business services sector.
“In lifting this misinformation, I would like to stress that the investigation on the part of the Cypriot authorities is open and continuing… the cooperation with the authorities of a EU member state for execution of their request is in progress and there is no problem in any respect,” he said. “On the contrary, a part of the request has already been executed and delivered”.
Anastasiades was referring to the MEPs’ remark that it had taken Cyprus two years to respond to a French request for legal assistance in related investigation.
“The competent authorities, the Unit for Combating Money Laundering (Mokas), the police and other law enforcement authorities have a vigorous international co-operation with foreign counterpart FIU (financial intelligence units), and execute formal MLA (mutual legal assistance) requests, including the recognition and enforcement of foreign freezing and confiscation orders,” he said.
“Our authorities have consistently been considering the various requests for legal assistance sent by the Russian authorities on this matter, on the basis of the international commitments of the Republic which determining the reasons for which a state may refuse assistance,” taking into account PACE’s 2014 resolution and relevant communications with Interpol and Europol, he said. “The Cypriot authorities have executed a small part of some of the requests and we consider that the information and material given was within the aforementioned context and in line with all cautiousness required”.
Anastasiades declined to elaborate on Browder’s case on the grounds that the case was before the court.
The president sent his letter almost three weeks after a report in Politis exposed the ties of state attorney Eleni Loizidou with Russian prosecution authorities, based on leaked emails from her private email account. According to the report, Lozidou, meanwhile suspended from her position and currently the subject of a disciplinary investigation, offered and requested favours from Russia. She was in charge of the department for extraditions at the legal service.