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UK: Azerbaijani leadership, accused of human rights abuses, used British companies in money laundering & lobbying scheme, Guardian investigation reveals

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5 September 2017

UK at centre of secret $3bn Azerbaijani money laundering and lobbying scheme

Author: The Guardian

Azerbaijan’s ruling elite operated a secret $2.9bn (£2.2bn) scheme to pay prominent Europeans, buy luxury goods and launder money through a network of opaque British companies, an investigation by the Guardian reveals. Leaked data shows that the Azerbaijani leadership, accused of serial human rights abuses, systemic corruption and rigging elections, made more than 16,000 covert payments from 2012 to 2014...One of Europe’s leading banks, Danske, processed the payments via its branch office in Estonia. Danske Bank said “money laundering and other illegal practices” had taken place. It first noticed the irregular payments in 2014. Estonia’s financial regulator said systems designed to stop money laundering at the branch had failed...The four firms at the centre of the Azerbaijani Laundromat were all limited partnerships registered in the UK. They were: Metastar Invest, based at a service address in Birmingham; Hilux Services and Polux Management, set up in Glasgow; and LCM Alliance, from Potters Bar, Hertfordshire. Their corporate “partners” are anonymous tax haven entities based in the British Virgin Islands, Seychelles and Belize...All four British companies...have...been dissolved.

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4 September 2017

The Scottish firms that let money flow from Azerbaijan to the UK

Author: The Guardian

UK companies using an obscure Scottish business structure are at the centre of a multibillion-dollar operation to funnel cash out of Azerbaijan, an investigation by the Guardian has found. Scottish limited partnerships (SLPs), structures originally established in the early 1900s for farm holdings, acted as shell companies to channel $2.9bn (£2.2bn) from Azerbaijan into the UK where it was used to buy luxury goods and peddle political influence throughout Europe. The money was moved through the Glasgow-based companies Hilux Services LP and Polux Management LP via an Estonian branch of Danske Bank between 2012 and 2014, according to bank statements seen by the Guardian as part of a cross-border collaboration with the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP)...The majority of the companies formed in the past decade are registered to a handful of locations, with thousands of SLPs at the same mailbox addresses. Of the new companies set up between 2006 and 2017, 70% are registered to just 10 addresses in Scotland, a report by Transparency International and Bellingcat found. More than 800 SLPs are registered to the mailbox address in central Glasgow that Hilux Services and Polux Management listed as their business address.

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