In the Republic of Moldova, they call it the “Theft of the Century.”
In 2014, $1 billion was drained from three banks in Europe’s poorest country into a web of secretive offshore companies. The money disappeared leaving taxpayers with the debt, the banks collapsed, and local authorities are still scratching their heads, trying to recover the missing cash.
Even as that billion-dollar theft was taking place, a fourth Moldovan bank, Moldindconbank, was routing $20.8 billion in Russian money through its accounts as part of the Russian Laundromat, the biggest money laundering operation ever uncovered in Eastern Europe. Most of that money would leave the country as well, getting routed to Europe and beyond to pay for luxuries like two Bentley cars, expensive prep schools of some rich person’s kids and electronics for the Russian defense industry.
Now OCCRP has learned that the two schemes were similar in design, and that they both involve the same person: Moldovan business wunderkind Ilan Shor.
Records examined by OCCRP reporters showed that Shor headed a group of 39 mostly shell companies, some of which received Laundromat money while others were involved in transactions from the $1 billion Moldovan theft. A few of Shor’s companies appear in both schemes.
Shor and the Laundromat
On examining newly discovered Laundromat data, RISE Moldova, an OCCRP partner, found that between April 2011 and December 2013, six companies connected to Shor received a total of about $22 million from three of the main ghost companies involved in the Russian Laundromat: Seabon Ltd., Westburn Enterprises Ltd., and Chester NZ Ltd.
These money transfers to Shor companies all followed a similar pattern.
For example, on June 28, 2013, Dufremol SRL, a Shor company that owned the duty-free shops at the Chisinau airport, received $845,000 from Seabon Ltd., a U.K.-based company with a prominent role in the Laundromat. The bank records indicated that Seabon’s payment was for laptops it had purchased from Dufremol.
When asked for comment, Ilona Shor, director of Dufremol and Ilan Shor’s stepmother, said: “Dufremol does not have any debt towards the companies you mentioned and those companies have no debts to Dufremol. We don’t have any other information.”
Earlier that same day, Seabon’s Moldindconbank account had received $12.7 million from five different Russian companies involved in the Laundromat. These were part of $700 million that Seabon would get as part of the Laundromat scheme.
Shor continues despite his current legal trouble to pursue power. He campaigned while under arrest for the position of mayor in the Moldovan city of Orhei – and he won in a landslide.