In an overgrown opening in the forest outside Graninge in Västernorrland stands an uninhabited red timber cottage from the 19th century. There is no road leading up to the house, and the path is covered in waist high grass. Overgrown peonies and raspberry- and currant bushes cover big parts of the property. The ripe red berries glow. The windows on the back of the house are boarded up and a green tarpaulin flickers in the wind.
This is the address that the Russian investment bank MB Barkley calls its headquarters. In Russia the bank offers financial services, asserting that they are under Swedish control. They lack permits in both Sweden and Russia. The Swedish financial supervisory authority has no record of the bank.
Four Swedish limited partnerships are registered at the address. These limited partnerships are owned by other companies in Panama, the Seychelles and Hong Kong. The stakes in the Swedish companies vary – at the most they reach 100 million SEK.
But although the cabin is supposed to house companies worth millions, it is obviously desolate, with the previous owner’s furniture still there. DN knocks on the door, but no one answers. The curtains are drawn. In the window on the second floor two stuffed animals have been left behind. The previous owner put the property up for sale on an international site. A Russian prospective buyer called and was very interested, but never came to look at the house himself. Instead one of his co-workers, another Russian man, came by plane to Östersund, 15 miles away.
He couldn’t speak English, but was shown around the property while talking in Russian on the phone. They bought the house fully furnished.
According to the deed the cost of the property was 92 420 SEK. After the sale the new owner has never been there. The neighbours have wondered who bought the house, since he has never visited. They have never heard of any international financial companies at the address.
In Swedish: Lucka i lagen gör Sverige till skatteparadis
DN has examined the companies, which state that they work with Trust management. The companies lack permits for that kind of activity, and the Swedish financial supervisory authority doesn’t know about them.
In the Russian marketing one of the companies, Nordic Heritage Trust, highlights the advantages of a Swedish trust: Hiding capital and avoiding taxes.
The Swedish limited partnerships are used as a respectable front for shell companies in tax havens like Panama and the Seychelles.
That is called ”Offshore+Onshore” and is described as the best combination of two worlds – the anonymity and the financial advantages of the tax havens are concealed behind the credibility of a company registered in Sweden.
The key to the setup is several loopholes in the Swedish money laundering prevention system. All companies that want to be involved in activities that are sensitive to money laundering have to register with the Swedish company registration office. The county administrative board should then audit the people behind the companies. If they have been found guilty of serious crimes they can be refused to pursue the activities.
But the authorities’ audit has one major flaw – it only works for Swedish social security numbers that can be examined against Swedish registers. Foreign citizens without Swedish social security numbers will not be seen in the system.
The control is practically non-existent. The men around the cabin have used this flaw, while banks and authorities are unaware of it. The companies then use an extract from the registry to maintain that they are under Swedish control, which is the key to opening bank accounts and doing business around the world.
The certificate of registering in the Swedish money laundering prevention system is emphasised by the companies themselves as a crucial factor in the setup, which is sold online.
Sweden is promoted as one of the best alternatives for hiding capital, protecting money and avoiding tax. The system can also be used for anonymous transactions, and can even be used to issue debit cards from Visa and MasterCard.
A basic package with a turn-key company costs almost 250 000 SEK. Extra services, like tailored software in order to be able to act like a bank, costs extra.
DN’s investigation of the companies in the remote cabin leads on to St Petersburg in Russia. During the summer of 2014 a Russian citizen, Nikolaij Kirijanov, was found guilty of extensive financial fraud. According to the verdict he was behind a kind of Pyramid scheme that lured hundreds of people to lose their savings, in total over 12 million SEK.
The Russian prosecuting authority called Kirijanov the leader of a criminal grouping in St Petersburg. He was sentenced to three years in jail, but that didn’t stop Kirijanov, through his company in the Seychelles, in September 2015 taking over the companies that are now registered at the desolate cabin outside Graninge.
Kirijanov owns Nordic Heritage Trust, the limited partnership highlighting how a Swedish trust can hide money and avoid taxes. ”With maximum confidentiality you can give material support to people without it being possible to track the sender”, the company writes when marketing the setup.
The owner of the cabin in Västernorrland can be found in the small village of Èze, beautifully situated between Nice and Monaco on the French Riviera. He is a Russian citizen, 59 years old, and his name is Sergeij Martazov.
He is not registered on any of the limited partnerships, but through the e-mail address and the phone number he stated on the property contract for the cabin, DN has been able to trace him to several adverts on Russian sites.
He sells Swedish "trust companies", created in order to avoid taxes and hiding money. The adverts highlight that the companies are ”approved” and registered with the Swedish money laundering registry. They list the possible transactions – “it can be compared with an offshore bank but without banking capital". One of the more advanced companies is sold for almost 3 million SEK. According to the advert it has an international banking license.
At Sergeij Martazv’s address in Èze there is also a company calling itself ”European Banking Monitoring association”, EBMA.
The association was registered during the spring of 2017. Behind it is a man who calls himself Alex Martazov, and who in the name of the association has guaranteed the authenticity of documents that have been sent to the Swedish Companies Registration Office. EBMA’s stamp can be found on several of the documents connected to the Swedish limited partnerships. The purpose seems to be to create a false picture of legitimacy through an imaginary body of control that guarantees the legitimacy of the documents sent in.
At the same address in Èze there is also a company offering dance shows with lightly clad women for private parties and events.
It’s obvious that Èze plays an important role for the men behind the Swedish trust companies. One of their companies is called Barons de Èze (”The barons of Èze”) and is registered in the Seychelles.
A third partner emerges in the company documents for Barons de Èze: Erik Shekhmametev, 34, from St Petersburg. He is the signatory for Barons de Èze and another company in the Seychelles. Erik Shekhmametev’s name is registered on several of the websites marketing Swedish trust companies. In Russian social networks he has several pictures of himself posing in front of luxury cars and casinos in Monaco.
The fourth person who can be connected to the desolate cabin is a 34-year-old Romanian citizen by the name of Ivan Petuhovschii.
DN:s examination shows that he is in fact Russian, and his name is Ivan Petushovskij. Recently he could be seen in Russian media as the founder of Exmo, a venue for trading Bitcoin. According to Exmo they have half a million users.
Petuhovschii is also registered as the owner of the company Banque T China in Hong Kong, which according to the Chinese Companies Registration Office has one billion dollars in capital stock.
The four Swedish limited partnerships that are registered at the cabin and their owner companies all have different complicated connections to each other. The false bank in Moscow uses Banque T China in its marketing. And in turn, Banque T China is the buyer of a company sold by Barons de Èze.
It’s obvious that the setup around the companies has been created in order to make it difficult to understand who is behind them. At the same time they want to look like large and legitimate companies.
The Swedish money laundering prevention system has not been able to stop them. On the contrary – it has created a perfect front.
Translation: Evelyn Jones