bne IntelliNews -
A chunk of the money that went missing after the fall of Lithuania's Snoras Bank and Latvian subsidiary Krajbanka - formerly part-owned by Russian Vladimir Antonov - ended up in bank accounts at HSBC in Switzerland, a new report claims.
The report, which was published on June 3 on the investigative journalism website Re:Baltica, alleges there were accounts in HSBC linked to either Snoras, or Antonov and his Lithuanian business partner Raimondas Baranuskas. HSBC’s role in helping conceal money for individuals linked to corruption or money laundering was uncovered when files from the bank from 2008 were leaked earlier this year.
Snoras assets totalling $65.5mn (€58.2mn) were deposited in HSBC in Switzerland, with a similar amount parked in the name of Baranuskas. Also, Antonov had a personal account containing around $1.86mn, Re:Baltica writes. Another account belonged to Panatrones Holdings Limited, a Cyprus-based offshore linked to Antonov, and was in debt to HSBC to the tune of nearly $21.46mn.
Anotonov and Baranuskas started Snoras bank in the early 1990s. The bank quickly rose in the ranks to the position of one of the toop lenders in Lithuania. However accusations of fraud led authorities to seize it and then declare bankruptcy in 2011, with regulators claiming to have found a hole of €1bn or more on its balance sheet.
Latvian subisidiary Latvijas Krajbanka soon followed. Both Riga and Vilnius were forced to compensate depositors under a state guarantee scheme. Lithuania was even forced to issue unplanned Eurobonds of €1bn to help it pay out Snoras.
Both countries have since been hunting down Antonov's assets - which stretch across the globe - in order to cover those costs. The report does not make it clear whether any of the Snoras-linked assets remain at the HSBC's Swiss unit.
Antonov and Baranuskas are currently facing civil charges in Lithuania for allegedly illegally transferring around €470mn and $10mn in assets and funds from Snoras. Both men are also alleged to have forged bank documents in order to conceal their activity, involving 33 transfers to Swiss and other offshore accounts between 2008 and 2011.
The pair sought refuge in the UK, but in early May lost their bid to avoid extradition to Lithuania. Antonov and Baranuskas denied the charges and claimed they were being made scapegoats following the nationalisation of Snoras in late 2011, and that the charges are politically motivated.
Antonov and his business partner claim that the nationalisation took place to silence the Lietuvos Rytas newspaper, which the bank owned, for being critical of the Lithuanian government. Antonov additionally claims that the Lithuanian authorities are after him because he is Russian.
The Central Bank of Lithuania has declined comment on the leaked information from HSBC, Re:Baltica says. Some suspicious activities related to the accounts in the Swiss banks have been mentioned in the information which Lithuania presented to the Westminster Magistrates' Court requesting Antonov's and Baranauskas' extradition.
The Re:Baltica report also mentioned other Baltic accounts in HSBC, with a total of about $240mn deposited. Half of the money is related to Latvia, the report claims, with the bulk of it in accounts reportedly linked to ABLV, the country's biggest locally owned bank.
Just over $110mn is linked to Lithuania, while $10mn stems from Estonia. The Lithuanian authorities suspect some of the HSBC clients may have been evading taxes.
“The Tax Inspectorate is analysing the information about our taxpayers' accounts in HSBC and looking into the origins of these funds," a tax official in Vilnius said. "Although one might say the information is a bit outdated, this data helps us in assessing particular individuals' risk of tax evasion and, possibly, illegal assets."
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