The recent arrival of a team of 24 FBI agents in Cyprus marks a critical step in the global enforcement of sanctions against Russian oligarchs and their enablers. This move underscores the island’s evolution into a significant financial center, attracting substantial Russian money and technology entrepreneurs from Israel. The agents are set to assist Cypriot police in unraveling the complex web of financial transactions and support provided to sanctioned Russians by local professionals.
Cyprus, known for its vibrant financial ties to Moscow and a large Russian expatriate community, particularly in Limassol, has been a hub for Russian wealth, earning it the nickname “Moscow on the Med.” However, the country’s role in facilitating transactions for sanctioned individuals has attracted scrutiny from Western authorities. The FBI team, which includes experts from the US Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), will focus on investigating how local lawyers and accountants have potentially breached EU measures following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The intensifying U.S. interest in Cyprus sanctions cases follows the ICIJ investigation in November. Based on a trove of more than 3.6 million leaked documents, the report Cyprus Confidential exposed how allies of Russian President Vladimir Putin have used Cyprus as a hideaway for billions of dollars of assets, including after Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine.
The spotlight falls on cases like that of Russian magnate Alexei Mordashov, with accountancy firm PwC Cyprus implicated in assisting him with asset transfers. This involvement of local professionals in aiding sanctioned Russians has prompted a reevaluation of Cyprus’s standing as a global financial center.
The Cypriot government, aware of the potential reputational damage, has expressed its commitment to addressing these issues, with President Nikos Christodoulides advocating “zero tolerance” for sanctions violations. The FBI’s assistance is seen as a crucial measure to maintain the island’s credibility and to demonstrate the political will to confront financial improprieties. This collaboration signals a concerted effort to enhance regulatory compliance and uphold the integrity of Cyprus’s financial sector in the face of international scrutiny.