The head of the bar association on Monday declined to comment on reports that they have discovered prima facie evidence of wrongdoing by the former law firm of ex-president Nicos Anastasiades in connection with the now-defunct ‘golden passports’ scheme.
According to daily Politis, in an ongoing investigation the bar association found that the Nicos Chr. Anastasiades & Partners law firm did not carry out due diligence on at least one client who had applied for a Cypriot passport under the citizenship-by-investment programme (CBI).
Contacted by the Cyprus Mail, bar association head Christos Clerides offered a flat “No comment.”
Over the weekend Politis reported that the bar association, as part of a wider probe into the involvement of law firms in the CBI, found that the Limassol-based law firm did not perform adequate anti-money laundering (AML) and/or Know Your Customer (KYC) background checks on one Russian national who applied for Cypriot citizenship.
The investigation was carried out by forensics specialists on behalf of the bar association. The specialists visited the offices of the law firm and took samples from their files.
Politis said they looked into seven files, out of the total of 57 citizenship applications which the same law firm was facilitating on behalf of clients.
Anastasiades left the law firm shortly before becoming president in 2013.
Linked to this case is a company called Imperium Services Limited which provides administrative and trustee services.
It’s understood the company is affiliated to Nicos Chr. Anastasiades & Partners. Stathis Lemis, a managing director with Imperium, is also a partner in the law firm.
And an online search of the Registrar of Companies website shows that Elsa Anastasiades, daughter of Nicos Anastasiades, is listed as one of the directors of Imperium.
Politis said that after examining the law firm’s files, the specialists compiled a report which they presented to the bar association. They allegedly found that in certain instances, the firm had failed to gather information on clients – such as the provenance of their funds, whether they were listed as Politically Exposed Persons, or whether they were on an international sanctions lists.
In the case of Imperium, it’s alleged they did not check the source of funds or risk profile of a certain client.
The newspaper zoomed in on the case of an 83-year old Russian national who acquired a Cypriot passport in 2014. She is allegedly the mother of Russian millionaire Andrey Fridrikhovich Borodin, who until 2011 was President of Bank of Moscow.
Borodin had to flee Russia after he became a suspect in a criminal investigation there. He was also charged for embezzlement. Placed on an Interpol Red Notice, Borodin fled to the UK, where he was granted political asylum in 2013. Following this, in 2016 he was taken off the Interpol wanted list.
According to Politis, nominally the investment in order for Borodin’s mother to acquire a Cypriot passport came not from Borodin, but from his wife. The bar association specialist who investigated the file could track no paper trail on the wife’s source of funds.
Quizzed about this, the law firm mentioned to investigators that they knew Borodin’s wife was a fashion model and “an influencer with thousands of followers” – but the law firm was unable to provide any documentation about the wife’s assets or source of funds.
Investigators also pointed out to the law firm they ought to have treated Borodin’s mother as a high-risk client, given that her son was wanted by Interpol. Apparently the firm responded that Borodin himself was not one of their clients, so they did not do KYC checks on his mother – the passport applicant.
Politis said also that soon the case will go before the bar association’s disciplinary board for a hearing. The law firm will then be summoned to answer the allegations/accusations, after which the board will rule on the matter.
The bar association has the authority to impose fines of up to €1 million.
Back in January 2021, and while testifying before a committee of inquiry into the ‘golden passports’ affair, Clerides stated that up until that time the bar association had found no evidence of wrongdoing by the Anastasiades firm.
During the same testimony, Clerides said 200 law firms were involved with the citizenships; out of those, 10 had processed over 50 applications, 25 processed between 10 and 50, and 140 were involved in under 10.
Commenting on the latest reveals, the Akel party said it served as a reminder of “the institutional corruption and the involvement of the ex-president [Anastasiades] in the passports scandal.”
The statement added: “The scandals of the Anastasiades decade are not forgotten. Elections do not mean that you get to wipe the slate clean.
“Will we ever get to the bottom of the scandal with the golden passports? Or will silence and impunity prevail? Will Nicos Anastasiades be called to account for the institutional corruption that humiliated the country in the eyes of the world?”