TBML and Russian connections key components in Zarrab’s illicit money network

Notorious gold smuggler Reza Zarrab used trade-based money laundering (TBML) in operations that have now been revealed to have close ties with Russia according to investigators working for the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), Courthouse News Service, Sweden’s SVT and other partners.

Zarrab’s links with Russia received only passing mention when he was prosecuted in the US in 2016, which the investigators describe as “a huge oversight”.

Bella Investments

The investigators allege that a Dubai based company effectively controlled by Zarrab, Bella Investments, used the UAE’s lax regulatory framework to move hundreds of millions of US dollars via wire transfers that involved, amongst others, UK-based bank Standard Chartered.

It unwittingly moved millions on behalf of Bella Investments in suspicious payments through an account at its UAE branch.

Fake trades

Wire transfers appeared to be payments for a wide range of goods, including home appliances, dried fruit and textiles.

In reality, the company was used to launder funds through numerous offshore bank accounts around the world the investigators allege. They also say that one of Zarrab’s closest aides, Adem Karahan, confirmed that the company had no real business activity. 

“Bella was set up for money transfer,” Karahan said in an interview with the investigators who asked him if the company conducted any real commercial activity. “No, it didn’t,” he replied.

The investigation is described in a report entitled By Suitcase and by Wire: How Reza Zarrab Smuggled Russia’s Money, which can be found here.

Categories: Trade Based Financial crimes News

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