24 Jun 2019
The Russian Federation removed identifying information for Crimean companies from its public corporate register on Tuesday, drawing criticism from anti-corruption advocates, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) said.
The deletions include the names of all domestic and foreign investors and business owners in the region, which Russia formally annexed in 2014 following its invasion that year into Ukrainian sovereign territory. The removals reverse a prior decision by the Russian government to publish corporate ownership data following the annexation, the OCCRP reported.
With its latest step, Russia now discloses less information about the individuals behind Crimean businesses than had been previously available under Ukrainian authorities, which only restricted public disclosures on most foreign investors, the news outlet said.
“The first and main reason for such a decision is the desire to protect companies that work in Crimea and trade with Russia from falling under Western sanctions,” Valentina Samar, chief editor of Crimea’s Center for Investigative Journalism, told the OCCRP.
On Thursday, European Union leaders unanimously voted to extend the bloc’s sanctions on Russia to 2020, citing the federation’s noncompliance with the Minsk Agreements. The protocol, which was signed by representatives of Russia and Ukraine in September 2014, and a subsequent addendum require the pullout of all foreign armed formations and mercenaries from the contested region.
As a “preferential economic zone,” Crimea has since 2015 offered foreign businesses various incentives in an effort to stimulate investment in the region. The annexed state may draw more interest from investors after deleting beneficial ownership data from the Russian register, the news outlet said.
The removal of the information also creates opportunities for the Russian government to circumvent US and EU sanctions on the purchase of prohibited military equipment and other deals, Samar told the news outlet.
“The most delicious contracts—the construction of the Kerch bridge, the Taurida highway—were given away to people close to President Putin,” she said, in the report. “But there are smaller contracts and facilities, from which thousands of Russian officials are fed.”
Crimea in recent years has become a “gray zone” where the laundering of illicit funds by corrupt Russian officials takes place and “toxic banking and insurance institutions work,” Samar told the OCCRP.
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