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Our View: Unflattering report of president’s ties to Russian money cannot be ignored

President Nicos Anastasiades remained co-owner of the law firm he established in the 1970s until February 2013

THE REPORT in the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) about the activities of the Nicos Anastasiades Law Office is not very flattering for the president. Citing records from the defunct Lithuanian Ukio Bankas, the report, published on Wednesday, said these “revealed the law firm’s work executing complex deals that moved Russian money to and from shell companies created by and associated with the firm.”

It also claimed that two of these shell companies “appear to be deeply entwined with the Troika Laundromat, a network of shell companies that operated from 2006 to 2013, moving at least $4.6 billion and enabling its users to hide assets, evade taxes or launder money.” Behind the two shells was a Russian billionaire who was a client of the Anastasiades law office, which helped secure him Cypriot citizenship in 2010, reported the OCCRP.

The report made clear that the documents seen, “do not contain any specific evidence that the firm or its employees broke any law or committed any crime,” but the truth is that it casts a shadow over Anastasiades. The transactions mentioned all took place before he became president, but “raise questions about the dealings between Anastasiades’ law firm, his associates and Russian financial networks used for criminal activity,” said the report.

None of the individuals named in the article, Anastasiades, the partners in his law firm and his daughters, responded to requests for comment, which has become the standard policy. There was no response to several articles about the activities of the president’s former law firm, posted on the Russia Insider website a few years ago, either, but it is questionable if this is the best policy. The idea that by ignoring these unflattering articles they would be quickly forgotten is not necessarily correct as, cumulatively, they create a very bad image of the Republic’s president abroad.

Add to this the European Commission’s criticism of the Cyprus citizenship-by-investment scheme in which the Anastasiades law firm is heavily involved, securing passports for clients, with related companies selling expensive real estate to them, and a very bad impression of the Republic’s presidency is given to the outside world. Anastasiades could argue that no law has been broken and it would be difficult to disagree, but public perceptions also matter and while domestically these matters are ignored, abroad they are not.

Rightly or wrongly, an impression of corruption at the highest level is given, which will not only be very difficult to shake off, but also undermines the finance ministry’s ongoing efforts to clean up Cyprus’ image. It is difficult to say what the president should do, but completely ignoring the bad press cannot be the answer.

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