• Wed. Feb 28th, 2024

Police swoop on Seychelles financial services firm hours after new Pandora Papers probe

Seychelles authorities raided an offshore financial service provider just hours after a new Pandora Papers investigation by ICIJ’s media partners revealed that the firm had exploited a U.K. secrecy loophole and helped front companies used by Vladimir Putin’s inner circle.

Seychelles-based Alpha Consulting was one of 14 offshore services providers whose leaked files made up the Pandora Papers, a trove of 11.9 million documents that were obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and shared with more than 600 reporters around the world.

The November investigation by media outlets Finance Uncovered, the BBC and Seychelles Broadcasting Corporation traced company records and analyzed hundreds of Alpha Consulting documents contained in the Pandora Papers cache to uncover more than 900 U.K.-registered firms set up by nominee directors linked to the Seychelles provider.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, boss of the Wagner Group, who died earlier this year, was reportedly one of those who reportedly benefitted from Alpha’s services. Prigozhin’s company Beratex Group Ltd was sanctioned by the United States in 2019.

Alpha’s office administrator and cleaner were among dozens of people allowing their names and signatures to be used on corporate documents so that the companies’ real owners could remain anonymous, according to the Finance Uncovered, BBC and SBC reports.

ICIJ’s partners also reported that Alpha had provided a director for a company owned by Leonid Reiman, a close friend of President Putin and former Russian communications minister. Alpha said it had carried out all the required checks on Reiman.

Alpha’s founder, Russian businesswoman Victoria Valkovskaya, told reporters that using nominee directors to hide the true owners of a company was “not something new or illegal in the industry.” She said Alpha was not responsible for the actions of the British companies.

These companies took advantage of a particular type of corporate entity — limited partnerships — that was exempt from U.K. transparency rules, and therefore not required to disclose true owners to regulators.

Some of the Alpha-linked U.K. firms were reportedly used for controversial activities, including alleged links to corruption schemes, a fugitive oligarch and unlicensed pharmaceutical sales. There is no suggestion that Alpha or the nominee directors had any involvement in the management of the businesses.

Within hours of the Finance Uncovered, BBC and SBC investigation being published on Nov. 2, Seychelles police and financial regulators reportedly swooped in on the Alpha Consulting offices in the capital city of Victoria, and seized hard drives and other documents. The country’s Financial Services Authority confirmed it had opened an investigation to probe the revelations in the media reports. Valkovskaya said Alpha Consulting was complying “fully to their demands” and remained at authorities’ disposal “at all times,” according to Finance Uncovered.

Alpha Consulting was founded in the Seychelles in 2008 by Moscow-born Valkovskaya and her now-ex husband Roy Delcy, a Seychelles native. Notable clients of the firm, uncovered as part of the original 2021 Pandora Papers investigation, include Russian billionaire and reported Kremlin ally Roman Avdeev, crypto scion and convicted money-launderer Alexander Vinnik, and Angolan billionaire and alleged embezzler and money launderer Isabel dos Santos.

According to a 2019 annual report, 75% of Alpha’s customer base was Russian. In 2022, ICIJ added the company names and other data of more than 800 Russian nationals contained in the leaked Alpha Consulting files to its Offshore Leaks Database.

link

By admin