by AKANI CHAUKE
ABUJA, (CAJ News) – INDICATIONS that vast amounts of money linked to controversial Russian officials have ended up in Africa are a tip of the iceberg of a continent sharply slipping into a launder for finances of unscrupulous Russian officials.
This is tied to the foray into Africa by the world’s biggest country by size wobbling into controversy.
The money laundering fiasco is also attributed to the sanctions Canada, European Union (EU) and the United States (US) imposed in 2014 after the annexation of the Crimean Pensinsula by Russia from Ukraine.
These restrictions were the most wide-ranging applied to Russia since the fall of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) 28 years ago this month.
Offshore zones in Africa have since emerged as of particular interest as Russian officials scour for new markets to stash their money. This is after the restrictions and Russia’s position in South America rendered untenable.
Former Russian minister, the oligarch Mikhail Abyzov, and Viktor Kozelsky, a current member of the Russian tax department, who is also a member of the ruling party, are at the centre of money laundering storms in Africa.
Abyzov is the subject of a Russian probe for alleged fraud and racketeering following accusations that he took US$770 million offshore from the country, – according to Forbes magazine .
There are suggestions some of the loot by Abyzov, a confidant of Prime Minister Dmitry Anatolyevich Medvedev, ended up in African offshore accounts.
The name Viktor Kozelsky has cropped up in a money laundering storm brewing in Nigeria, Africa’s biggest economy, albeit blighted by a reputation for corruption.
The scandal is related to Russian money of dubious origin.
Kozelsky is the head of the Federal Tax Service of the southwestern Saratov region and State Advisor to the Russian Federation, as confirmed by the agency .
Allegations against Kozelsky have brought to the fore the scourge of money laundering in West Africa.
The Inter-Governmental Action Group against Money Laundering in the region (GIABA) expressed concern.
Justice Kimelabalou Aba, GIABA’s Director General, said the bloc was confronted with several threats related to transnational organised crimes.
“This situation, with its dramatic effects on our member states, therefore, warrants all stakeholders’ commitment and efforts in preventing, and combating the scourges of money laundering and terrorist financing,” read a statement delivered on his behalf at a recent three-day training for investigative journalists, held in Liberia .
Think-tanks such as the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) believe the controversies mentioned above, particularly the Kozelsky issue, are merely a sprout of a deep-rooted problem.
Possibilities are that the beleaguered man may be connected with other more influential corrupt Russian officials and thus his is not an isolated case.
At its recent plenary where it evaluated Russia, FATF advised the country to “refine its approach to supervision and prioritise the investigation and prosecution of complex money laundering, especially concerning money being laundered abroad.”
Ironically, Russia, according FATF, has in-depth understanding of the money laundering and terrorist financing risks it faces.
According to international experts, the money laundering debacle implicate, mirror the blunder-prone foray by Russia into Africa. Africa and the then Soviet Union enjoyed cordial diplomatic, political, military and cultural relationships from 1945 to 1992.
Russia’s rekindling its ties with Africa is seen as an exploitation of the United States’ waning participation in the continent, marked by the withdrawal of troops and declining political agenda.
But such blunders, characterised by graft, in the diplomatic charm offensive are well documented.
Last year the South African government of President Cyril Ramaphosa, in office on a pledge to curb corruption, cancelled a lucrative nuclear agreement his disgraced predecessor, Jacob Zuma, agreed with the Putin administration.
Russia was initially scheduled to construct plants for South Africa’s ambitious nuclear power project but the deal was not spared the corrupt nature of the previous government.
In the Central African Republic (CAR), which is emerging from years of conflict, Russia has played a prominent role in the revival of peace but there are strings attached. CAR President, Faustin-Archange Touadera, disclosed his country was considering hosting a military base for Russia.
The World Economic Forum (WEF) noted among other challenges in Russia’s African strategy, the country would inevitably face accusations of acting as a neo-colonialist power with the sole objective of controlling mineral resources.
Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, said the first Russia–Africa Summit held in Sochi on 22-23 October, “will give impetus to the further development of the whole range of trade and economic relations between Russia and our friends on the African continent.”
– CAJ News