Wednesday 12 December 2018

British QC criticises Moldova’s central bank over reports on fraud scandal

Moldova discovered that tens of millions of pounds had been stolen from its banking system between 2008 and 2014.

A British lawyer has criticised the National Bank of Moldova over a banking scandal (Jane Barlow/PA)
A British lawyer has criticised the National Bank of Moldova over a banking scandal (Jane Barlow/PA)

By Ben Woods, Press Association Chief City Correspondent

A British lawyer has rebuked Moldova’s central bank over its handling of a huge fraud that plunged the country into crisis, claiming a flawed analysis of the scandal has been allowed to prevail.

James Ramsden QC said an account by the nation’s courts is being overshadowed by two reports commissioned by the National Bank of Moldova (NBM), which “absurdly exaggerate” the losses and wrongly accuse Moldovan businessman Ilan Shor.

Moldova discovered that tens of millions of pounds had been stolen from its banking system between 2008 and 2014, causing three of the country’s lenders to collapse and leading to a 400 million dollar (£282.4 million) bailout from the International Monetary Fund.

An investigation by risk management firm Kroll – commissioned by the NBM – said the fraud had left a one billion dollar (£706 million) black hole in its wake, equivalent to 15% of Moldova’s GDP.

It also claimed Mr Shor – and his company the Shor Group – “played an integral role” in the crime and was “one of, if not the only, beneficiary”.

However, Mr Ramsden said the reports have been wrongly touted as “expert analysis”.

He said Kroll’s findings were at odds with a ruling by Judge Andrei Niculcea, who found the losses to be closer to 93 million dollars (£66 million).

The Moldovan courts have convicted former prime minister Vlad Filat and businessman Veaceslav Platon.

Mr Shor’s fraud charge has been dropped and replaced with money laundering and abuse of office, which he is appealing against.

According to the silk’s analysis, the Kroll reports were only “scoping” documents based on a small amount of data with one source – the NBM – which should have never been made public.

He said the reports had “little hard evidence” or “independent investigation” and were deliberately leaked as part of a wider agenda aimed at Mr Shor’s personal wealth and political ambitions.

Mr Ramsden, who was hired by Mr Shor to review the Kroll reports, said: “In my view, having commissioned a ‘scoping report’ based on restricted, untested and unaudited information provided exclusively by the NBM, it was incumbent on the NBM to take responsible ownership of the consequences of the leaking of Kroll 1 and ensure that it was not relied upon as an authoritative source of evidential value.

“I have seen no evidence that the NBM did this. I have seen no evidence to suggest a reasonable explanation for this failure.

“The permissible inference which results is that this was therefore part of a deliberate strategy on the part of the NBM to allow use of Kroll 1 for purposes and to an extent that were never intended or permitted by Kroll.”

According to Kroll, a complex web of transactions comprising of asset swaps and bogus loans saw millions swept out of Moldova through UK companies using Latvian bank accounts.

It led to the failure of Moldovan lenders Banca de Economii SA, Banca Sociala SA and Unibank SA, sparking protests on the streets of the former Soviet nation in 2015.

The public unrest was reportedly the catalyst behind the Moldovan government’s decision to release the Kroll report through parliament speaker Andrian Candu three years ago.

Mr Ramsden said Mr Shor was not “blameless for some of the errors that allowed the fraud to occur”, but there was no evidence to suggest he was the architect of the scam, or benefited from it.

He added: “Those key stakeholders and political actors that were complicit in the collapse of the banks cannot properly be allowed to continue to promote their own narrative as ‘evidence’ or ‘fact’.

“Each of those key players is of course entitled to fight their corner and to argue that they were not culpable.

“What they cannot do is publish or allow publication of material that may appear to many as objectively assessed, evidence-based conclusion, but which is in truth no more than their own assertion.”

Kroll declined to comment. The National Bank of Moldova did not respond to a request for comment.

Press Association

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