Swiss Bank CBH Embroiled in Akhmetzhan Yessimov Money Laundering Scandal

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The Swiss private bank Compangnie Bancaire Helventique (CBH) has been holding accounts for offshore companies that are allegedly linked to a senior Kazakh politician, Akhmetzhan Yessimov, it has been revealed.

A money laundering complaint was filed with the Financial Market Supervisory Authority (Finma), Switzerland’s regulator, in April over $300 million of suspicious transactions involving bank accounts at CBH.

Details of the complaint were published by SonntagsZeitung, the Swiss newspaper, which said it had seen leaked documents that showed multiple transactions by offshore companies linked to Kazakh oligarchs, including Yessimov.

Yessimov is a powerful figure in Kazakhstan and was recently appointed personal advisor to former president Nursultan Nazarbayev. He was previously the head of Samruk-Kazyna, the Kazakh sovereign wealth fund, and has held several positions in government including deputy prime minister.

The allegations that offshore companies linked to the politician were used to transfer hundreds of millions of dollars via a Swiss bank are likely to prompt questions about where the money might have come from.

According to the newspaper report, a network of offshore companies based in the BVI, Marshall Islands, Seychelles and Panama was set up by two Swiss consultants working at a firm called EDG Consulting. CBH held at least 12 bank accounts on behalf of these entities and the leaked documents show millions of dollars being transferred between them.

According to SonntagsZeitung: “Akhmetzhan Yessimov is identified in the complaint as the main beneficiary.”

Another individual linked to the alleged money laundering network is Galimzhan Yessenov, who is Yessimov’s son-in-law. Galimzhan Yessenov acquired a Kazakh fertilizer group called Kazfosfat in 2008 for $120 million, which appears to have been paid for with a $130 million loan from a BVI entity called Kennon Finance.

About $109 million of the Kennon loan was repaid in 2015 using another loan from Disport International. Disport, meanwhile, had received a loan from yet another offshore company called Luriato Corporation. Luriato eventually wrote off the debt.

SonntagsZeitung wrote: “The repayment transactions follow a common pattern of money laundering: loans are no longer repaid. A gives B a loan. After a few years A writes off the loan. The big question now is from which sources the money originally came – or where Luriato got the money from.”

According to the money laundering complaint sent to Finma, the possible origins of the money transferred through this system could have been either ATF Bank or Samruk-Kazyna. ATF was acquired by Galimzhan Yessenov in 2012 for $500 million, although he recently lost control of the bank when it was acquired by companies linked to former president Nazarbayev.

Yessimov is the former head of Samruk-Kazyna, although he was forced out earlier this year after poor performance and governance concerns.

The complaint to Finma will bring additional scrutiny for CBH, which last year had to answer allegations that money was laundered out of Venezuela through accounts held at the Geneva-based bank.

CBH said: “CBH was at no time informed about the complaint filed with Finma. Although CBH cannot provide any information about existing or non-existing client relationships, it has never conducted any illegal banking transactions. CBH denies all allegations.”

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