Inverness council house used by criminals to break Putin sanctions

Monday 28 August 2017

#nn

A few springs ago an auxilliary nurse came home from his shift at Inverness hospital and tried to open the front door of his semi-detached council house. He could not. It was jammed with A4 envelopes wrapped in cellophane.
The nurse, David MacMillan, laughs at the memory. “After I eventually forced myself in, I counted the letters,” he says before leaving a long pause. “There were 485 in just one day.”
Mr MacMillan, a 41-year-old father of one, gets a lot of mail. Or rather his home does. Because it is the official address of – at last count – around 600 Scottish limited partnerships, or SLPs, the once obscure kind of firm which anti-corruption body Transparency International calls the “UK’s home-grown secrecy vehicle”.
Over the last two years The Herald has exposed hundreds of such firms involved in everything from the biggest money-laundering scheme ever exposed, the multi-billion Russian Laundromat, to child porn and corrupt arms exports.
That is because, at least until very recently, the owners of SLPs could legally remain secret, pay no taxes and file no accounts, provided their “partners” were opaque corporate entities registered in more traditional tax havens.
 
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READ IN FULL http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/15499320.How_a_Scots_council_house_was_secret_base_for_criminals_busting_Putin_sanctions/          https://archive.is/wG9gM


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Renewed calls have been made for a wholesale review of Scotland‘s increasingly notorious anonymous shell firms after it emerged they were used to break sanctions against Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

Politicians and anti-corruption campaigners have already secured UK government moves to try to make widely abused Scottish limited partnerships or SLPs name their main owner, if they have one.

However, the SNP and Transparency International have stepped up demands for deeper reforms of the firms, which they describe as “Britain’s home-grown secrecy vehicle”.

READ IN FULL http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/15498610.Demands_for_crackdown_on_Scotland_s_notorious_anonymous_shell_firms_helping_Putin/           https://archive.is/9S4O9


27th August 2017

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A few springs ago David MacMillan came home from his shift at Inverness hospital and tried to open the front door of his semi-detached council house. He could not. It was jammed with A4 envelopes wrapped in cellophane.
The auxiliary nurse laughs at the memory. “After I eventually forced myself in, I counted the letters,” he says before leaving a long pause. “There were 485 in just one day.”
Mr MacMillan, a 41-year-old father of one, gets a lot of mail. Or rather his home does. Because it is the official address of – at last count – around 600 Scottish limited partnerships, or SLPs, the once obscure kind of firm which anti-corruption body Transparency International calls the “UK’s home-grown secrecy vehicle” because, until very recently its true owners could be legally secret.
 
Among the firms registered at his home, in Merkinch, were five used as part world’s biggest bank heists – the systematic looting of $1bn from three financial institutions in the former Soviet republic of Moldova.
Now, again thanks to The Herald, Mr MacMillan had just discovered that his house was also the registered address of the owner and operating of a ship currently abandoned in Istanbul after it was used to break international sanctions on trade with Russian-occupied Crimea. “Oh God’, he says.
Mr MacMillan sees funny side, the sheer absurdity of his near-accidental role as a mailbox for global skullduggery. But he was so sanguine when law enforcement first noticed his house on Rosehaugh Road.
 
“They fraud squad came,” he says and blows out a long, whistling sigh as he gathers his thought. “I mean, the fraud squad at my door. I am a pretty laid-back guy. I don’t get stressed but I just lost it. It was scary.
“I am an average guy from Inverness who works in his local hospital on a zero-hours contract. I am definitely not a gangster or anything like that.
“I am a guy who goes about his business and does not say boo to a goose so there is no way I have anything to do with all these criminal activities.”
 
So how did an Inverness council tenant – earning less than £20,000 a year – end up as a front for a £1bn bank heist and an embargo-busting ship?
Mr MacMillan used to share his home with a partner, a Latvian called Liene Brice. She also has nothing, he says, to do with crime. He explains “Years ago my ex got an email from a former schoolmate looking people in the UK to help with processing letters. She said she would give us a scanner and we could scan letters that came in. We agreed, telling them to send the money to my then partner’s mother in Latvia.”
Then the letters, sometimes scores a day, 500 a week. For a while, Ms Brice scanned them. Then the police came. “They told me we were dealing with fraud and I could not believe it. We tried to help her mum to find out we were actually helping other people without knowing.” Now, years later, with his girlfriend gone and her friend’s associates told not to send any, MacMillan simply gathered all the letters in to a bag and gives them to the authorities. Police Scotland, “down south”, he says, have a close interest.
Mr MacMillan is not the only Scot who has found himself as the unlikely host of hundreds of firms. many involved in criminal or unethical conduct.
There are 30,000 SLPs registered in Scotland, the vast majority with untraceable real owners and based, theoretically, at everything from local photo-copying shops to council flats. Under new rules imposed this month they have, in theory, to name their ‘person of significant control’ or face daily fines of £500 until they do so.

http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/15498607.How_a_house_in_Inverness_became_the_front_for_international_crime/    https://archive.is/P4vBY

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SHADOWY Scottish companies broke international sanctions against Russia by importing goods into Crimea which was annexed by Moscow almost three years ago.

Scotland’s increasingly-notorious corporate secrecy regime has been exploited to break the sanctions which were imposed by the European Union, the USA and other countries after Russian troops moved into Crimea, then part of Ukraine, in November 2014 in support of pro-Russian separatists involved in the country’s civil war.

The Sunday Herald can reveal that some of the criminals running the embargo on trade have hidden behind anonymous Scottish shell firms.

This means that authorities have struggled to identify the real owners of a sanctions-busting ship lying abandoned off Istanbul for more than two years.

The crew of the 745-ton Tallas – officially owned by a firm registered alongside hundreds of others at an Inverness council house – were left for at least eight months stranded off the Turkish port with nothing to drink but rain water and nothing to eat but fish they caught.

The tenant of the Inverness house is 41-year-old David MacMillan, an auxiliary nurse who earns less than £20,000 a year. MacMillan used to share his home with a partner, a Latvian called Liene Brice. He explains, “Years ago my ex got an email from a former schoolmate looking for people in the UK to help with processing letters. The friend said she would give us a scanner and we could scan letters that came in. We agreed, telling them to send the money to my then partner’s mother in Latvia.”

Then came the letters, sometimes scores a day, 500 a week. For a while, Brice scanned them. Then the police came. “They told me we were dealing with fraud and I could not believe it. We tried to help her mum to find out we were actually helping other people without knowing,” he says. Now he simply bags the mail and hands it over to the authorities.

The scandal of the Tallas – and at least one other officially Scottish-owned embargo-running ship blacklisted by Ukrainian authorities – comes two years after the Sunday Herald first revealed the wholesale abuse of an obscure kind of firm, the Scottish limited partnership or SLP, by international criminals.

After a campaign led by this paper and the ex-SNP MP Roger Mullin earlier this summer, the UK Government, which controls Scots corporate law, ordered all SLPs to reveal their real owners of “persons of significant control”. Only a tiny fraction of the 30,000 SLPs on the books off Britain’s corporate registry, Companies House, have complied with new openness rules amid concerns further reforms will be needed to clean up the industry.

The SLPs we can expose as sanctions-busters -– Importica of Inverness and Edison Project of Edinburgh – have both now been dissolved and will never have to reveal their owners, who are unidentified and uncontactable.

Importica’s theoretical partners were themselves shell firms from Belize in Central America while Edison Project was formed by two firms from the equally-opaque tax haven of the Seychelles.

 

Crimea

 

Yet the two firms were used as the agents, owners and managers of the Tallas and another ship, the Vitaliy Satik, to avoid criminal charges by Ukraine and the EU on any vessels visiting Crimea for trade.

Their real owners – or their representatives – are understood to be in Crimea or Ukraine.

Shipping lawyers believe that it was illegal for the two SLPs, as British and EU entities, to trade with Crimea.

The Tallas, in particular, also used a “flag of convenience” from the South east Asian nation of Cambodia. That country has become so embarrassed by the flagging other nations’ ships that it has stopped doing so.

International observers warn of the dangers of ships using offshore firms for owners, such as Scottish ones, and flags of convenience like Cambodia’s.

Andrii Klymenko is an expert who monitors sanctions-busting in Crimea for a think tank called the Maidan of Foreign Affairs. Kiev-based Klymenko stresses that the ‘Scottish ships’ broke Ukrainian law. Most such embargo-busters now avoid entering Ukrainian ports, fearing arrest and seizure.

“They understand and they are afraid,” Klymenko said.

But he suggests the story of the Tallas and the Vitaliy Satik – now back in Ukraine and renamed the Sandra – could end up back in Scotland. Ukraine’s prosecutors, police and SBU secret service are working with international partners to trace foreign fronts and vessels outside Ukraine.

Klymenko said: “I am sure that in the near future we shall see formal investigations of sanction-busting in those countries which support the sanctions.” And that, of course, includes the UK.

Jacqueline Smith, maritime organiser for the International Transport Workers’ Federation, told the Phnom Penh Post in Cambodia that a flag of convenience “allows abuses and enshrines secrecy, protecting the abusers”.

Glasgow Central SNP MP Alison Thewliss said: “To find ourselves in a circumstance where a blockade-running ship theoretically has an anonymous owner yet has been operated via a house in Inverness demonstrates precisely why the campaign around Scottish Limited Partnerships is absolutely imperative. The opaque structures of shell companies and SLPs have provided an ideal platform for criminality to flourish.

“In this instance the flag flown by the ship was Cambodian, the ship is sinking off Istanbul, the actual address of the owner is in Crimea, and yet the address provided for the owner is a home in Inverness.

“The so-called flags of convenience hold links to some of the most harrowing experiences of international criminality, from providing a platform for human trafficking to enabling the violation of sanctions. To begin to tackle this, we must expose and eradicate blockade-running ships. To do so involves significantly enhancing transparency around the shell companies that so many of them are being operated by.”

Alison Thewliss MP

Two years ago the Sunday Herald revealed that $1billion had been looted from three banks in impoverished Moldova using SLPs, five of which shared the same Inverness address, MacMillan’s, as Importica. Since then it has emerged that SLPs were used as fronts for everything from mass copyright theft and diet pill pushers to child porn and corrupt arms dealers.

The businesses, as this newspaper revealed, played a key part in the biggest money-laundering scheme ever uncovered, the so-called £20bn Russian laundromat.

http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/15497933.Exposed__the_Scottish_firms_busting_sanctions_for_Russia/      https://archive.is/js2Fd


READ MORE

  1. Analysis: How controversial shell companies conquered everything from money laundering to Formula One    25/06/2017
  2. Scottish tax haven firms behind child abuse website   25/09/2016
  3. Scotland “Panama of the North” Money Laundering, Gun-Runners & Tax Haven  14/08/2016

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