Russia's super-rich love investing their fortunes in the west.

Billionaire Roman Abramovich, for example, boasted that he was able to buy English football club Chelsea.

But Russian oligarchs generally prefer to hide their wealth.

As the owners of their companies, castles and luxury villas, they do not want to be known in the West, which has to do with the murky sources of their wealth.

That is why they transfer their assets to relatives or straw people, and hide the true ownership structure with the help of shell companies located in so-called tax havens.

After the EU issued extensive sanctions against oligarchs who are closely linked to the Putin regime because of Russia's attack on Ukraine, it is now a matter of tracking down their assets.

Markus Wehner

Political correspondent in Berlin.

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In March, a group of economic and financial investigators started work at the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) in Wiesbaden.

Their task is to uncover the so-called offshore structures of the oligarchs so that it is possible to freeze the assets of those affected.

This results in some criminal offenses, in particular money laundering.

And so that the officials can investigate properly, the Frankfurt public prosecutor's office has revived an old procedure on suspicion of money laundering.

The investigators in Wiesbaden have created a data pool for their work, which is fed by the large data leaks of recent years.

The focus is on the Panama Papers, documents of the former law firm Mossack Fonseca in Panama.

The offshore service provider had enabled the establishment of more than 300,000 letterbox companies in 21 tax havens, and many Russian oligarchs were among the customers.

In April 2016, a data leak became public;

it contained more than eleven million documents from 1977 to 2016, including emails, letters, certificates of incorporation, loan agreements and bank statements.

An international research network of journalists evaluated some of the documents - many documents prove money laundering and tax offenses.

The BKA acquired the Panama Papers in 2017 for five million euros.

Money from criminal sources in Russia

While the investigations were initially aimed at potential German criminals, the authority is now using the documents against the oligarchs.

The BKA can automatically access 15,000 Russian passports from the documents.

There are also leaks like the Paradise Papers, which show how billionaires worldwide use tax evasion and money laundering - among these documents are documents from 120 top politicians from 47 countries.

The investigations into the Danske Bank scandal were also included in the data pool.

For years, a subsidiary of the major Danish bank in Estonia was used to launder money from criminal sources in Russia and Central Asia.

Around 230 billion dollars flowed into the West between 2007 and 2015 and was used to buy luxury goods and expensive real estate.

The bank employee Howard Wilkinson, who uncovered the scandal, had also confided in the German investigators.

The BKA investigators are now trying to shed light on the offshore structures by comparing the EU sanctions lists with the documents in the databases.

The language is not that easy.

Around two-thirds of the documents in the Panama Papers are in Spanish.

The names and addresses of Russian customers also appear in Cyrillic script, as well as numerous circumscribed variations that need to be recognized and matched.

IT specialists and artificial intelligence help the officials here.

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