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Billionaire Mordashev, art hunter Kulyk, oligarch Abramovich, filmmaker Seipel, despot Putin

Illustration: [M] Julius Maxim / DER SPIEGEL

In Cyprus, the situation is becoming uncomfortable, at least for one or the other financial service provider: Since Sunday, a team of six American FBI experts has been on site to help the Cypriot police with their investigations. This was confirmed by government spokesman Yiannis Antoniou to SPIEGEL and ZDF.

Unusual use

U.S. investigators are expected to clarify whether Cypriot lawyers and accountants helped protect Kremlin-linked Russian businessmen from EU sanctions that came into force after Russia's invasion of Ukraine. According to the Guardian, the U.S. team is made up of FBI investigators and experts from the U.S. Treasury Department's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), which specializes in investigating sanctions violations and money laundering.

The reason for the unusual deployment: Almost a month ago, research by SPIEGEL and its international partners revealed that Russian oligarchs were trying to bring their wealth to safety on the Mediterranean island even after the start of the war of aggression on Ukraine and the associated EU sanctions - and with the help of Cypriot service providers.

"Cyprus Confidential" is an investigation initiated by SPIEGEL and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) that has uncovered questionable business dealings in the EU country Cyprus. Internal documents from several Cypriot financial service providers show how sanctioned Russian oligarchs have used Cyprus as a kind of backdoor to the European Union.

The documents, which were leaked to SPIEGEL, also show that the award-winning German TV journalist Hubert Seipel received hundreds of thousands of euros from Russia and hid it from NDR, its book publisher and the public.

"No visible activity by the EU Commission and Europol"

And the investigation revealed how oligarch Roman Abramovich allegedly used his network of shell companies to build a system of black funds around the top English club Chelsea. It also became clear how the multi-billionaire shifted and concealed valuable paintings, which are now being sought by the Ukrainian art hunter Pavlo Kulyk, among others.

In response to the Cyprus Confidential revelations, Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides promised that his government would investigate "everything that has come to light." "We want to conclude the investigation as soon as possible," Yiannis Antoniou, the deputy government spokesman for Cyprus, said on Wednesday. This is because the support of the U.S. experts is temporary.

After the publication of the research, members of the European Parliament had also called for stricter anti-money laundering laws. However, the fact that US investigators and not Europol or other European authorities are now working in Cyprus is causing unrest among EU politicians. "Cyprus is part of the EU and EU laws have been disregarded - and yet there is no visible activity by the EU Commission and Europol," criticised Dutch MEP Sophie in 't Veld on the short message service X (formerly Twitter).

Where does the data come from?

SectionWhich documents were evaluated?expand

The documents on which the "Cyprus Confidential" investigation is based come from six Cypriot financial service providers as well as from the Latvian company Dataset SIA, which distributes documents from the Cypriot commercial register. A large part of the data was leaked anonymously to SPIEGEL. Documents from other service providers ended up with the whistleblower platform Distributed Denial of Secrets (DDoS) and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP). SPIEGEL, DDoS and OCCRP eventually shared the data with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which coordinated the worldwide research together with SPIEGEL.

SectionHow was the work done?expand

One of the Cypriot service providers at the center of the "Cyprus Confidential" investigation, the company Cypcodirect, was hacked and blackmailed, according to its own statements. SPIEGEL received the data anonymously, so it cannot say anything about its origin.

As a reporter, is it allowed to evaluate this information and use it for research? The simplified legal answer is: Yes, as long as there is a sufficient public interest, which the media carefully examine on a case-by-case basis. As long as journalists do not incite or incite hackers to commit crimes, they are allowed to receive and research such material. Sometimes, stolen data can also provide evidence of crimes or other misconduct.

SectionWhy is the data used?expand

In terms of press ethics, it is more difficult to weigh up: Is this how you support blackmailers? Isn't this indirectly giving criminals a stage?

We, SPIEGEL and its media partners, have debated these questions and have come to the following conclusion: The transmitted data only serves us as a starting point for research. We review the content, interview those we reproach and seek the opinions of external experts. And we only publish if we believe that the results of this research have a high level of social relevance and thus an overriding public interest.

In the case of "Cyprus Confidential", we see this as a matter of principle: at the heart of the matter is the question of how a Russian-dominated shadow economy was able to establish itself in an EU member state, how Russia's rich were able to conceal, hide and increase their wealth despite sanctions with Cypriot help.

Against this background, SPIEGEL and its media partners have therefore decided to report on selected cases from the documents.

"Every single EU country must implement and enforce anti-money laundering laws," said Rasmus Andresen, spokesman for the German Greens in the European Parliament. In addition, accounting firms such as PwC need to be more heavily regulated.

According to the Cyprus Confidential documents, PwC has been helping Russian businessmen preserve their wealth for decades. In addition, the Cypriot branch of the auditing and consulting firm is said to have helped Russian oligarch Alexei Mordashov to circumvent sanctions. The company responded to the allegations by pointing out that it had complied with all laws and even imposed stricter rules on itself than necessary. Mordashov also denies all accusations.

Illustration: [M] Julius Maxim / DER SPIEGEL; Photos: Werner Lerooy / IMAGO; Claudia Nass / CHROME ORANGE / IMAGO; Kristina Kormilitsyna / SNA / IMAGO; Ozan Kose / AFP; Fedir Petrov / DER SPIEGEL; Piero Oliosi / Polaris / ddp; Mikhail Klementyev / dpa; Kirill Makarov / PantherMedia / IMAGO; Lam Yik / Bloomberg / Getty Images; B. E. Small / perspektive / IMAGO