Guardian Watch, latest, Russia
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“Global Laundromat” has the Guardian in a Spin

by Kit

The latest “breaking” story from the Guardian and Luke Harding is hitting the headlines. Almost exactly 1 year after the explosive anti-climax that was “The Panama Papers”, Harding and the coterie of NGOs for which he acts as de-facto spokesperson have a big announcement to make: Banks launder money, and some of it is Russian.

I don’t know why they use American money with a Russian flag superimposed. They were probably afraid nobody would recognise roubles.

We are nearing the anniversary of the release of the Panama Papers, a “big story” involving years of work, hundreds of leaked documents, a team of exceptional journalists (and Luke Harding) and a dramatic reveal: “Sometimes, very rich people use legal loopholes to avoid paying their taxes.”

The list of implicated parties included heads of state, celebrities, athletes, David Cameron’s dad and a cellist that knows Vladimir Putin. We all remember who the Guardian decided to focus on, and we all know why.

Today the same crack-team (and Luke Harding) are releasing the long-awaited sequel to their original hit. “The global Laundromat”, it’s called. It’s a product of a years-long investigation into money laundering in ex-Soviet states, using British shell companies. I can’t comment on the truth of these allegations, because we don’t get to see the evidence, we are simply tell us it’s true “according to letters The Guardian has seen”, and “reports shown to the Guardian”…and other variations on that theme.

They may well be true. Big business and billionaires take part in shady and/or illegal business practices all the time. Just as was the case in the Panama Papers, they tell us something we all already know to be true, and then act like it was a surprise.

There’s a lot to like here. The simultaneous publication of four different articles on the subject, all practically identical. The implication that it is “breaking news”, when their prize factoid is three years old, and the scheme itself hasn’t operated since 2014. The fact that Luke Harding has to publicly declare the US government’s involvement, to stop people like us from pointing it out and making them look silly (like last time). The persistent use of the old Harding trick of simply dotting your story with plenty of “could haves” and “speculations suggests”. It’s all good stuff.

Where it becomes hilariously cack-handed in their agenda-pushing is in trying to force tenuous links to the Kremlin and, of course, Vladimir Putin in particular.

Last year they plastered their front page with pictures of Putin and videos about Putin and editorials about corruption in Russia…despite having to admit in the text:

…the president’s name does not appear in any of the records…

This year they can’t even go that far. They fall to the level of implication. Talking around inconvenient facts on the one hand, and then wildly speculating on the other. Leaving deliberate dots for the reader to join up, whilst never having the courage of their convictions to make plain their insinuations (probably for fear of being sued and/or corrected in the alt-media).

Much like the Panama Papers launch, there’s an awful lot of verbiage to work through, implications are thick on the ground, evidence less so. No direct sources are named, it is always “a ex-banker living in exile said”, or “a Russian business-man said”. Gorge on words and starve of meaning seems to be the message of the day.

Some interesting bullet points I pulled out:

Now we can reveal Britain’s role in this scheme – and how vast sums of potentially tainted money flowed into and out of western banks, including HSBC and the Royal Bank of Scotland, without raising any alarm.

This is taken from this piece, one of the four long reads The Guardian is currently devoting to this topic. You can tell it’s a Harding creation because of the prose…for want of a better word…style. It might seem inconsequential at first, but note the use of the phrase “potentially tainted”, that means there is no proof of any wrong-doing at all. It means, the money is “potentially” untainted. As in just totally legal money being used to buy things.

Normally speaking I would expect a crime to at least have definitely happened before a paper put it in their headlines. But maybe I’m being old-fashioned.

The ingenious scheme has its origins in Russia. Put simply, it was a way for Kremlin insiders and other well-known Russians to shift cash abroad.

Not a single “Kremlin insider” is named in any of the four stories currently running on this issue.

Before it was rumbled, the scheme was one of several mafia operations that have allowed the rich to spirit money out of the country to spend in the west.

There’s no evidence to back-up this statement, not a single connection to the mafia is ever mentioned again. But even so it’s worth noting. The money is leaving Russia and coming here. Remember that, because it will be important later on.

“Money laundering is the biggest business in Russia,” one former Moscow banker, now living in exile, explained. “You steal from the budget. You’ve got this dirty money. You have to do something with it.”

The source here, the “former banker living in exile”, is naturally unnamed. As an educated guess it’s probably Sergei Pugachev, a banker and oligarch who has fled both Russia and Britain on charges of embezzling and money laundering. Harding has interviewed him before, it would make sense if he became Harding’s primary source on Russian banking.

Pugachev fled Russia after the government seized his assets and charged him with various financial crimes. That’s an important pattern that will repeat, and has repeated, many times over.

Here we come to the “Putin connection”, are you ready?

It features Russian banks, Moldovan oligarchs, and a network of fake UK companies fronted by fake or “nominee” directors, many of them in Ukraine. It had impeccable Moscow connections. Vladimir Putin’s cousin Igor sat on the board of a bank which held accounts that laundered billions.

His cousin worked at one of the banks that held accounts that may have laundered money. That’s it. These are connections that Harding considers “impeccable”. Is there any evidence connecting the two cousins? Phone calls? Photographs? If any exists, none is presented.

Interestingly, Igor Putin is actually a member of an opposition political party in Russia, which supported an alternative presidential candidate in 2012.

You can put the above quote together with another statement, from this article, to see just how completely meaningless it is:

Accounts held at 19 Russian banks were involved in the scheme. In 2014, it was reported that one financial institution was the Russian Land Bank (RZB). A bank board member at the time was Igor Putin.

Yes nineteen, nineteen(!), different Russian banks are “involved” with the scheme, and the “impeccable Moscow connections” are that Putin’s cousin worked at one of them. At least five different British banks were involved, HSBC, Barclays, Lloyds TSB, NatWest and RSB. It’s hard to imagine that every cousin, of every board member, of every bank is currently under investigation by Scotland Yard.

In fact, nobody is under investigation by Scotland Yard, at all. Every single reference to a criminal investigation is talking about Latvia, Moldova…and Russia.

Once the goods had been cleared the UK firms were liquidated. No duty was paid. Often, Russia’s tax inspectors then took the UK companies to court.

In practice, the Laundromat made possible three different crimes inside Russia: tax evasion, evasion of customs duty and money laundering. In 2013 grey import schemes cost the state $40bn, a Russian parliament committee said.

…alleged ringleader Alexander Grigoriev was detained in November 2015 while eating in a Moscow restaurant…In 2014-15, [Russian] regulators stripped Grigoriev of his banking licences amid concerns that funds were mysteriously vanishing…Russian police sources told Kommersant that Grigoriev was one of a number of prominent people who used the Laundromat to move $46bn in liquid assets out of Russia.

In three separate paragraphs, dotted throughout the four different articles he has contributed to, Harding makes reference to three different Russian governmental efforts to control illegal movement of money: Taking foreign companies to court, parliamentary enquiries, and the arrest and suspension of (alleged) criminal bankers.

He makes no such mention of any British efforts to do the same, because there were none.

The FSB, the Russian security service Harding routinely refers to as “the successor to the KGB” (in fact, in one article today he simply calls them the KGB), have apparently launched an investigation into this scheme. How does Harding address this issue? Very simply:

The Russian investigation into Laundromat has been cursory.

There are suspicions the FSB’s real goal was merely to find out how much investigators knew.

…officers from Russia’s FSB spy agency visited detectives in Moldova. They took away records. It is unclear if this was a genuine investigation or an attempt to discover how much the Moldovans knew. Probably the latter.

No sources are linked to back up these assertions. He completely dismisses, without evidence or argument, the FSB investigations.

He doesn’t dismiss the intentions of Britain’s NCA investigations…because, once again, there were none.

A step back, and a gentle examination, paints a rather different picture from the one with which the Guardian is trying to present us. It shows us Russian oligarchs and bankers shifting vast sums of money OUT of Russia and INTO the EU. Now why would this be?

Logic would suggest that money flows FROM regulation INTO corruption. That’s a natural physical force, like water running downhill. Like osmosis. Russia, since the end of the chaotic Yeltsin era, has been going through a slow process of de-oligarchisation, even Shaun Walker (grudgingly) admitted that. The aforementioned Sergei Pugachev can attest to it (he does so, often and loudly). The Russian government has jailed billionaires for embezzling. Russia prosecutes bankers, and demands companies pay their taxes. Is the same true of Britain? Did a single banker see the inside of jail cell after the 2008 crash? Have Amazon, Google or Vodafone been brought to court for their massive tax evasion?

What you’re looking at here, like the Panama Papers, is just further evidence of that which we already know, that the deregulated bank and business sectors in the UK can be abused by the super wealthy for their own personal gain. And, like the Panama Papers, it was deliberately misrepresented by “investigative journalists” in order to exaggerate any connection with the Russian government, and just generally shine a poor light on Russia.

So, who is behind this revelation?

To answer that, let’s take a look at the about page of the driving force behind this “scandal”, The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP). The following is taken directly from their own website:

OCCRP is supported by grants by the Open Society Foundation, Google Digital News Initiative, the Skoll Foundation, the Sigrid Rausing Trust, Google Jigsaw, the National Endowment for Democracy and the Knight Foundation. OCCRP also receives developmental funds for improving journalism from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ), the United States Department of State and the Swiss Confederation.

The bolded are all very familiar to us here at OffG, and should be to anyone that has followed our work on US-back NGOs. They form an argument on their own, you don’t need me to tell you what it means.

All this really tells us, so far, is that the US government, their corporate allies and puppet NGOs have spent years of their time, and God knows how much of their near-limitless resources, trying to tie the current Russian administration to any kind of criminal corruption. What have they found? A cellist legally avoiding his taxes and that Russian oligarch’s think their ill-gotten gains are safer in British banks, than Russian ones. A rather damning fact, when you think about it.

This is the result of years of work from the world’s business and intelligence elites (and Luke Harding), and it is, frankly, pitiful.


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16 Comments

  1. I didn’t read the Luke Harding article and am loathe to. I might have to, although there’s a lot to follow up on here and I’m not sure I’m up for it. But this was a good reveal.

    Like

  2. Kaiama says

    Generally, goods can only be removed from bonded (customs sealed) storage once the payment of customs duties into a Russian Customs bank account has happened. Not just Russia, that’s the world over. No money, no honey. Frankly, I can’t recall any country’s customs giving importers credit.

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  3. michaelk says

    Harding is almost comically paranoid and sees the long arm of the ‘KGB’ absolutely everywhere. Like Kit, I find it hard to take this stuff seriously as journalism. This is the Guardian attempting to show that ‘hard graft’ journalism is still relevant and the new Assange Wikileaks model… isn’t. These articles remind me of ‘magic’ in so many ways. The kind of magic one sees on stage where a magician creates an elaborate illusion around a very old trick, only the over-elaborate style and soaring rhetoric diverts attention from the hollow centre and the lack of any real evidence. Far from being real journalism, this stuff is just the case for the prosecution in a de facto trial involving Russia and Putin, which is the whole point, yet, and I know this is a hard thing for liberals to understand, the accused are rarely, if ever allowed to defend themselves and answer the charges being brought. It’s disturbing. Guilt is simply assumed despite the lack of any real evidence and denial is persceived as proof of ones guilt.

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  4. This alleged quote from Harding comes across as the most dishonest of all, at least to the literal mind:

    Accounts held at 19 Russian banks were involved in the scheme. In 2014, it was reported that one financial institution was the Russian Land Bank (RZB). A bank board member at the time was Igor Putin.

    It was reported that RZB is a “financial institution” . . . yeah, so? Do we need a report for that conclusion? It’s like saying:

    It is known that 20 banks operating in London were actors in the LIBOR scam. It is reported that one bank operating in London is RBS.

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  5. Nogginthenog says

    They never mention where all this dodgy money ends up of course.

    If one were to take a look at the guest list for the traditional tory fundraiser, the black and white ball, and the foreign money being laundered through london property, the correlation would, I expect, be very high.

    But they won;t say that, because they are not interested doing anything that will have an actual result.

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    • Seraskier says

      Harding’s “revelations” last year about the “Panama Papers” promised that he would be publishing articles very soon, which substantiated the empty sensationalist claims he’d made about a paper trail that led ‘all the way to the Kremlin’

      Needless to say, like everything “award-winning” journalist Luke Harding ever publishes, this was a pack of lies. There never was an article which published the supporting detail for the cockamaimie codswallop he had claimed in his hysteria pieces on the Panama Papers. Inability to research a story, a career of laziness and plagiarism, lack of claimed access to the details, and actual absence of the claimed facts are just some of the reasons.

      But the fingerpointing and jeering did their job – for the majority of credulous Grauniad loyalists.

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  6. Good breakdown of Harding’s Laundrama!

    The Cobbler of Panama (Luke Harding) and fellow CIA funded assets at the Organized Crime and Corruption Project and the Global Investigative Journalist Network come up with some pretty standard washing instructions for anyone’s dirty money. But not the real dirt. So what’s the purpose of this load of fake Langley laundry? Let me give you some help. It’s called the white-wash effect.

    Despite the pre-wash, main wash, rinse and spin Harding fails to find any really dirty Russian washing, well is that surprising? No. But it is based on the need to dirty a Russian backed investigation into the corruption of the previous US and EU Moldovan president Nicolae Timofti and his accomplices.

    This so called Guardian revelation comes at a time when Moldova’s recently elected president, president Igor Dodon, is looking to pull the country away from the European Union’s orbit and back towards Russia, as opposed to the country’s previously staunchly, but corrupt pro-Western president and government.

    Igor Dodon came to power on the back of this corruption and money laundering scandal which rocked the country and discredited Moldovan politics. It got little coverage in the WMSM because it included the syphoning off of EU and IMF funding from Moldova by senior politicians backed by Soros, the US and EU.

    So Moldova was almost financially ruined by a set of EU and US backed Oligarch politicians (sound familiar?). A scandal that erupted last year and led to the democratic ousting of president Timofti and his government supporters. Many of who are now under investigation.

    In 2014, more than $1 billion disappeared from three Moldovan banks: Banca de Economii, Unibank and Banca Socială. It is well known that Nicolae Timofti knew since 2013 about the money laundering. The stolen money was laundered through the very same network as outlined in the Organized Crime and Corruption Project revelations, faithfully touted by the Guardian.

    All this comes at the same time as complaints of harassment against Russian immigration officers by a number of Moldovan officials entering Moscow airport have emerged. This smoke screening coincides with Moldovan prosecutors having launched criminal cases against 14 judges as well as 10 senior bank managers, senior central bank officials and four bailiffs accused of money-laundering. An activity which included the syphoning of EU and IMF funds out of the country.

    Pro-Russian Dodon is backing the corruption investigation and he is backed by Russia. It appears the CIA/ MI6 are not so keen on this investigation for reasons we can only guess at.

    The whole white wash would be amusing if it did not again reveal the extent that the US and its media enablers will go to, as with Ukraine, to hide the very real criminals and CIA assets in Moldova they have been enabling and promoting.

    Like

    • Seraskier says

      Thank you for this excellent detailed takedown of Harding’s latest twaddle. Of course, its timing chimes charmingly with Britain’s latest military foray into Estonia (aka ‘house and feed the squaddies at the cheapest prices in the EU’)…. and the much-flaunted upcoming drubbing which Bozo claims he’s going to give Putin, when he eventually turns up here in Moscow very shortly.

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  7. Frank says

    The City of London is the epicentre of the world’s money laundering and price manipulation operations. The more egregious s episodes have included the LIBOR and London Whale and other scandals including Standard Charter and HSBC. It is interesting to note that many US investment banks set up shop in London to avoid the rather more rigorous laws in the US. Thus London was to become known as the US Investment banking Guantanamo since they could get away with things in Albion’s fair city that they could not get away with on the other side of the pond.

    Mr Harding’s article actually says more about the utterly corrupt and actually criminal nature of the Anglo-American banking system that it does about Russia.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. rtj1211 says

    Of course, Wachovia was never being used in the US for money laundering, squeaky clean that bank was. Never had anything to do with drug lords.

    Yet more ‘Putin must go’ slandering, as if it were not long past due for Jamie Dimon et al to be banned from banking and work as inmates in a for-profit prison.

    The usual 8 year old arguments of low level hoods, this story…..

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  9. Excellent Kit, and many thanks for this much needed (and appreciated) analysis of Harding’s steaming pile of shameless innuendo and non-news. It is important that you took time to do this as we are now beginning to drown in a rising tide of excrement from the broken sewers of the ‘media’. In the process – btw – you show what correct reporting SHOULD be. 5 stars!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Dead World Walking says

    Greed begets greed.
    As long as hierarchical systems exist we will continue to spiral towards total collapse.
    Anarchy (rules WITHOUT rulers) now.

    Like

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