How Russian ‘Blood Money’ Flowed Into Montenegro
05 Jul 2019

For three years, a sleek 21-meter yacht moored in Porto Montenegro, an exclusive marina on the Balkan nation’s Adriatic coast. But documents obtained by OCCRP suggest that the boat was more than just a pleasure cruiser for the rich: It was a vessel for moving money of dubious origin via inflated yacht rental fees.

Between 2010 and 2012, Asti Services Ltd, the Belize-registered company that owned the yacht, paid moorage fees to the Montenegrin marina, which advertises itself as a “yachting paradise.” Over that period, the company reported receiving yacht rental payments of 3.1 million euros (US$4.2 million) from two British Virgin Islands (BVI) companies whose beneficial owner was a key organizer of the infamous Magnitsky tax fraud in Russia.

A separate set of payments Asti made to purchase yacht insurance strongly suggest that the yacht in question is the Crystal Princess, a 21-meter, four-cabin cruiser. The sum Asti reported collecting in rent was considerably more than the amount similar vessels yield in Montenegro, raising questions about the nature of the transactions.

Asti’s yacht income shows up in records leaked from Ukio Bankas, a now-defunct Lithuanian bank that was a key cog in a scheme dubbed the Troika Laundromat. The Laundromat enabled Russian elites to move money out of the country, spend lavishly on luxury goods, and sometimes launder funds, hide assets, or evade taxes. From 2006 through 2013, the system shuffled $4.6 billion through a network of shell companies set up by Troika Dialog, a Russian investment bank.

An additional 1.1 million euros (US$1.5 million) Asti spent to buy a four-story apartment building in the Montenegrin coastal resort of Djenovici is also recorded in the Ukio Bankas leak.

The money for the building came from the illicit proceeds of the Magnitsky affair, according to Bill Browder, an American-born financier who once made large investments in Russia. Browder was spurred to become a vocal opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin and an anti-corruption activist when his tax lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, died in prison after exposing the theft.

By Vladimir Otasevic and Stelios Orphanides, OCCRP, 3 July 2019

Read more at OCCRP

Photo: Daniel Nyul [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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