Sunday 22 July 2018

Dublin probe over 'Russian dirty money' as Ballsbridge homes lie vacant

UK anti-corruption group suspects laundering by kleptocrats as Ballsbridge homes lie vacant

Vladimir Putin (Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
Vladimir Putin (Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
Russian President Vladimir Putin. Picture: AP
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

A UK anti-corruption outfit that campaigns against suspicious Russian investment in the London property market has turned its attention to a cluster of high-end properties in leafy Dublin 4.

The Committee for Legislation Against Moneylaundering in Properties by Kleptocrats has assigned a team of researchers to investigate the ownership of an unusually high number of vacant properties in Ballsbridge.

The group, known as ClampK, is examining whether the ownership follows a pattern that it claims is used by kleptocrats from Russian and other countries who funnel "dirty money" through chains of off-shore shelf companies.

The Dublin 4 properties came to the group's attention last year when the 2016 Census figures showed that the area had one of the highest vacancy rates in the capital, with one in five homes unoccupied in Ballsbridge. The area encompasses some of the city's most affluent addresses and borders Donnybrook and Sandymount.

ClampK co-founder Arthur Doohan said researchers hoped to establish whether kleptocrats were "using Irish property markets to launder globally stolen money, particularly Russian stolen money".

"We are sponsoring research into this area, and we think there are dozens if not more properties that will likely fall into this category," he added. "Properties that use these mechanisms tend to be registered multiple times in a chain, so they never have just one registration. For example, it may be registered to a company in the Isle of Man, that will have an owner company in the British Virgin Islands, that will have an owner company somewhere else. It is very opaque."

Russian interest in Ireland has come under scrutiny in the wake of the poisoning last month of a former spy and his daughter in Salisbury, which Britain has blamed on the Kremlin. Ireland expelled one Russian diplomat in solidarity with Britain last week, prompting Russia to retaliate with the expulsion of an Irish diplomat from Moscow.

More than 150 Russian diplomats in total have been expelled from two dozen countries that sided with Britain, many of them suspected agents. In Dublin, the selection of the Russian diplomat chosen for expulsion was based on garda and military intelligence.

ClampK was co-founded by bankers Roman Borisovich, a Russian, and Mr Doohan, a Dubliner, to highlight how kleptocrats use London property to launder money and distort the market. The group runs the so-called ''Kleptotour'' of an area of the city that it nicknamed Londongrad, which takes in high-end properties in exclusive areas owned by wealthy Russians with links to the Kremlin. The city has been attracting affluent Russians since the 1990s, when the British government offered visas for investment of more than £2m. Transparency International has said more than a quarter of all visas issued are to Russians.

The Russian ambassador to Ireland, Yury Filatov, told the Sunday Independent recently that there was no flight of Russians to Dublin, but that Dublin, along with Paris and Madrid, could be an attractive city to Russians who want to leave London.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Tanaiste and Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney has said there was "no justification" for the expulsion of an Irish diplomat from Russia, .

The embassy official has been given until April 9 to leave. On Friday afternoon, the Irish Ambassador to Russia, Adrian McDaid, was called to the Russian Foreign Ministry and instructed that one of Ireland's nine diplomats in the country would have to leave.

A spokesperson for Mr Coveney said: "There is no justification for this expulsion.Our staff do not engage in activities which are incompatible with their diplomatic status."

Sunday Independent

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