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FBI Checking Defunct Cyprus Bank for Russian Ties

December 25, 2017

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into links between US President Donald Trump’s campaign and Russian influence has led the FBI to probe a closed Cypriot bank used by wealthy Russians and accused by the US of money laundering.

That was the claim made by the British newspaper The Guardian which said US investigators and the Treasury Department asked Cyprus’s Central Bank to reveal information about the defunct FBME Bank.

An unnamed source told the paper that was in response to a request from Mueller who is looking into former Trump campaign Chairman Paul Manafort’s ties to Russia that has seen the political operative indicted and under house arrest.

The source also said the investigation was tied to money that had flowed from Russia to the U.S. through banks in Cyprus which have had a notorious reputation for laundering money and which were brought to the edge of ruin in 2013 before President Nicos Anastasiades asked for a 10-billion euro ($11.86 billion) international bailout to save the economy.

The financial news agency Bloomberg reported last month that authorities in Cyprus provided Mueller’s team with documents detailing the financial activities of Manafort and his business associate Richard Gates just days before they were indicted last fall.  

The indictment against Manafort and Gates claims the pair had funneled over $75 million through foreign bank accounts in Cyprus and other countries. Manafort and Gates had at least 15 accounts with Cypriot banks, according to Bloomberg.

Manafort was charged in October with conspiracy against the United States, tax fraud and money laundering as a part of Mueller’s probe into alleged ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.

The Hill, a US site covering Congress and American politics, said it asked the Treasury Department and Mueller’s office for responses but both declined to comment although FBME denied any wrongdoing.

The Hill has reached out to the Treasury Department for comment. The special counsel’s office declined to comment.

“FBME has not engaged in money-laundering and was never accused of such until the FinCEN allegations. The Bank has acted in compliance with all the EU and Cyprus Anti-Money Laundering directives; a fact corroborated by multiple third party auditors,” the bank said.

In 2014 the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), a bureau of the United States Department of the Treasury, which collects financial transactional data and information in order to combat domestic and international money laundering, terrorist financing, and other financial crimes, accused FBME which operates primarily in Cyprus, of facilitating financial transactions for multinational organized crime organizations and Hezbollah.

The Central Bank of Cyprus took over management of the bank before revoking the branch license on Dec. 21, 2015. There was no explanation why a defunct bank was issuing statements.

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