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Politics

Anastasiades Family Law Firm Said Hiding Russian Exile’s Assets

NICOSIA – The law firm created by Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades was accused by a Panamanian offshore company, Alcogal, of helping a Russian oligarch hide his assets through fake beneficial owners.

That was in a secret report filed with Caribbean financial regulators, said the British newspaper The Guardian, which said the company claimed the firm run by Anastasiades family after he stepped aside to be the country’s leader said that four of the four of the offshore companies it was managing were beneficially owned by its staff.

But the report with regulators in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) on June 8, 2015, said the company believed that it was misled by the law firm and believed the real owner was Russian businessman and former senator Leonid Lebedev.

He fled Russia that year after also being accused of failing to declare his wealth and assets, which he denied, and he is now a Hollywood film producer.

The newspaper and BBC said they contacted the law firm which denied filing false information to the broker. Anastasiades, who became President in 2013, said although he owned shares in his firm until his election that he took no role in its affairs after becoming leader of the opposition in 1997.

In a statement to the Guardian, Anastasiades said: “I have no knowledge and it would be impossible for me to know and be in a position to respond to any allegations concerning the handling of the affairs of my ex-law firm.”

The paper said there is no indication that he was involved in what his family’s law firm was doing although it also was a broker for the now-disbanded program to help rich foreigners acquire Cypriot residency permits and European Union passports that ended after it was found applicants weren’t checked for criminal activity or money laundering.

But the report said that, “The response raises questions about the President’s wisdom in allowing a legal firm, over which he apparently had neither oversight nor control, to operate under his name while he served as a prominent politician.”

Both the firm and its founder have previously had separate dealings with Lebedev and Anastasiades & Partners is understood to have advised him in getting Cypriot residency.

The recent Pandora Papers report by a group of investigative journalists worldwide included documents with a Suspicious Activity Report (SARE) sent by Alcogal to the BVI’s financial regulator.

The SAR, which was not copied to the law firm, names four companies – including Doubleday Properties, Donmark Finance and Bloomfield Finance – and states: “We believe Mr Leonid Lebedev to be the UBO (ultimate beneficial owner) of these companies,” it said, according to the newspaper.

In 2010, Anastasiades’ law firm took over the management of the companies and registered them with Alcogal. According to Alcogal’s SAR, when asked for the identity of their owner the president’s firm cited three beneficiaries, two of them workers at the firm and the other an employee of a client of the firm.

Two worked out of Anastasiades’s office in Limassol, a seaside resort popular with wealthy Russians and where Lebedev bought a villa to show enough investment to obtain his residency permit, the report added.

The Alcogal report said it had come to believe the three individuals named by the president’s law firm were not the “real UBOs” and “strongly” concluded that the offshore shell companies actually belonged to Lebedev. It resigned as registered agent for the four firms, citing a “higher risk” to its reputation.

Anastasiades & Partners denied wrongdoing and said it had no knowledge of the SAR or the concerns raised in it and that the staff whose names were cited to Alcogal were never beneficial owners of the offshore companies, but were acting as trustees on behalf of the beneficial owner, entirely in accordance with Cypriot law. The legal consultant told the Guardian she had always been the true beneficial owner of one of the companies.

The firm declined to say if it acted for Lebedev, citing client confidentiality, but said it had always kept “proper records” in accordance with Cypriot law.

In June 2013, soon after winning the presidency, Anastasiades borrowed Lebedev’s private jet to fly to France for a meeting with the then French president, François Hollande.

Anastasiades said he used the jet “free of charge” because of a French air traffic controllers’ strike, adding the plane was due to fly to Geneva anyway for a service. He traveled home on a regular commercial airline, he also said.

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