Pandora's Papers: Cyprus Gets Involved in Scandal Again

Досье Пандоры: Кипр снова оказался замешан в скандал
4 October 2021 Liza Medvetskaya

Founded by the President of Cyprus, Nicos Anastasiades, Nicos Chr. Anastasiades and Partners LLC was again involved in a scandal.

This time, the firm appeared in the Pandora Papers, where the broker of the Panamanian offshore company Alcogal accused it of concealing the assets of dubious origin of the former member of the Federation Council of the Russian Federation Leonid Lebedev.

By the way, the broker of the Panamanian offshore company Alcogal filed a complaint against the Cyprus law firm Nicos Chr. Anastasiades and Partners LLC, which claimed that four of the offshore companies it managed were owned by its employees. However, in a report filed with the British Virgin Islands financial regulator on June 8, 2015, it is said that the broker came to the conclusion that there were not the real owners, and now thinks that the true owner is the Russian businessman and former member of the Federation Council of the Russian Federation Leonid Lebedev. By the way, Lebedev fled Russia in 2015 after being accused of concealing his assets, which he did not declare. However, he denies the allegations and has since become a Hollywood film producer.

Representatives of Nicos Chr. Anastasiades and Partners LLC, contacted by The Guardian and the BBC on Monday, October 4, categorically denies giving the broker false information. The founder of the firm, Nicos Anastasiades, who became President of Cyprus in 2013, said that although he owned shares in the firm before being elected to the post, he did not take an active part in its affairs after he took over the leadership of the DISI party in 1997.

I do not know anything, and I would not have the opportunity to know and answer the accusations regarding the conduct of the affairs of my former law firm, - said the President of Cyprus.

It is worth noting that there are no suggestions that Anastasiades was involved in the company's activities.

However, it raises the question of the president's foresight in allowing a law firm, over whose actions he apparently had no supervision or control, to use his name, while he was a prominent politician.

The report says that both the firm and its founder previously had separate business with Lebedev. Presumably Nicos Chr. Anastasiades and Partners LLC advised Russian citizens on obtaining Cypriot citizenship under the legal, but controversial gold passport scheme in 2011, under which wealthy candidates could acquire the right to live and work in the European Union. It is noteworthy that citizenship was granted to Lebedev in the same year.

Among the published documents of the so-called Pandora Papers, there are documents from 2015, including a suspicious activity report (SAR) sent by Alcogal to the financial regulator of the British Virgin Islands.

SAR, a copy of which was not provided to the law firm, mentions four companies, including Doubleday Properties, Donmark Finance and Bloomfield Finance, and states: "We believe Leonid Lebedev is the UBO [ultimate beneficial owner] of these companies."

In 2010, the law firm of Anastasiades took over the management of the mentioned companies and registered them with Alcogal. According to SAR Alcogal, when asked about the identity of their owner, the president's company named three beneficiaries.

Two were employed in the legal practice, and the third was an employee of the firm's client and a legal consultant. The two worked in Anastasiades's office in Limassol, a seaside resort town popular with wealthy Russian citizens, where Lebedev bought the villa as part of a golden passport deal. A legal consultant worked in the same building.

Досье Пандоры: Кипр снова оказался замешан в скандал

But the Alcogal report said the company had concluded that the three individuals identified by the presidential law firm were not “valid UBOs,” and “firmly” concluded that the offshore shell companies actually belonged to Lebedev. He subsequently resigned from his position as a registered agent for the four firms, citing "increased risk" to his reputation. However, Nicos Chr. Anastasiades and Partners LLC categorically deny wrongdoing and state that they did not know about SAR or the issues raised in it.

The firm also declined to disclose whether it was acting in Lebedev's interests, citing the confidentiality of client information, but said it always kept "proper records" in accordance with Cypriot law.

Nicos Anastasiades retired from professional involvement after he became the leader of a political party in 1997 and figured as a non-voting shareholder in the company until 2013. He has never been involved in the day-to-day activities of the company in the office or any interaction with clients and affairs, employees of Nicos Chr Anastasiades and Partners LLC said.

As for Lebedev, he did not comment on this situation. Lebedev is one of the lucky businessmen who received Cyprus citizenship thanks to the investment program.

In a statement to The Guardian, the President of Cyprus described his relationship with Lebedev as "cordial and formal." He stressed that they never belonged to the category of "lawyer - client".

I have never, never dealt with the affairs of the firm's clients, including Mr. Lebedev, - said Anastasiades.

On October 3, 2021, the International Consortium of Journalists (ICIJ) published a large-scale investigation dedicated to the secret assets of presidents, ministers, and monarchs, which they own through offshore companies.

The investigation lasted a year and involved more than 600 journalists from 117 countries. Among the persons mentioned in the Pandora Papers were presidents Zelensky, Putin and Aliyev, the King of Jordan and the Queen of Great Britain, as well as a number of other high-ranking officials and millionaires.

Досье Пандоры: Кипр снова оказался замешан в скандал

What are Pandora's Papers?

The Pandora Papers are the largest ever leaked internal documents of 14 offshore registrars from different countries. A year ago, an anonymous source gave the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) three terabytes of data (almost 12 million documents) containing information about the owners of 30 thousand offshore companies. The archive contained not only registration data, but also internal correspondence of lawyers and other employees of offshore registrars, information about transactions, bank accounts, as well as exchange papers.

ICIJ has recruited over 600 journalists from 117 countries to investigate and analyze information. Among them are employees of ABC, The Guardian, BBC, The Washington Post, Miami Herald, Le Monde, La Nacion, Indian Express. For a year, they studied the largest offshore data breaches from Panama, Cyprus, Monaco, British Virgin Islands, Seychelles, Switzerland, Cayman Islands and other tax havens.

According to The Guardian, an independent verification of the information from the "Pandora's Papers" proved the authenticity of the information: some of the offshore owners confirmed that the leaked data about them is correct. The importance of the documents is due to the fact that they list the secret offshore companies of 35 world leaders (including both former and current presidents, prime ministers). The plum also sheds light on the secret financial transactions of more than 300 ministers, judges, military leaders, officials from 90 countries of the world.

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