London-based oligarchs face cash probe

Billionaires who 'practically own the Kazakh government' under investigation for money laundering. Adrian Gatton reports
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Three London-based oligarchs from Kazakhstan, who are understood to have invested heavily in the capital's property market, are under investigation by Belgian authorities for money-laundering.

Three London-based oligarchs from Kazakhstan, who are understood to have invested heavily in the capital's property market, are under investigation by Belgian authorities for money-laundering.

Patokh Chodiev, Alexander Mashkevitch and Alijan Ibragimov are the little-known billionaires. Collectively named "the Trio", they are the latest in a clutch of oligarchs from Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) to operate businesses from Britain.

The Trio, who have worldwide interests, made their fortunes in Kazakhstan from minerals, oil, gas and banking. They are close confidantes of the Kazakh President, Nursultan Nazarbayev.

The Independent on Sunday first learnt in 2001 about the visits by the Trio to London. At that time, one businessman said: "They practically own the Kazakh government, and swathes of land and businesses there. They have £20m-£30m of investments in London and want to set up their base here."

In the previous year the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS) had devoted a chapter of its classified Millennium Report on organised crime in Russian to the Trio. The report, seen by the IoS, found no link between the Trio and organised crime.

However, a spokesman for the Belgian prosecutor's office in Brussels, said: "All three men have been under investigation for money-laundering. The file has been passed to the prosecutor and we expect the case to be brought before a court in the next few weeks."

In May 2001, the Trio were charged by a Belgian judge with money-laundering, allegedly through a country house near Waterloo. The money was alleged to have been "of criminal origin". The Trio have rejected the charges. Despite the charges, Lord Levy, envoy to Tony Blair, met Mr Mashkevitch in Kazakhstan last year.

The Trio are part of what some suspect to be an attempt in the past few weeks by a Dutch-registered company, Arduina Holdings, to take over Emperor Mining. Emperor, which is listed on the Australian Stock Exchange, operates a gold mine on Fiji.

As a result of regulatory pressures, Arduina has been forced to disclose some ownership details. The Trio were identified last week in a shareholders' and associates' notice and their address was given as the Second Floor, 16 St James Street, in central London. This is also the address of Alferon Management, a management company closely connected to the Trio.

Of the Trio, Mr Chodiev has particularly strong UK links. He is known to travel on business to London regularly. His children also live in London.

In 2001, Mr Chodiev's son Sabir, then 19 and living in Chelsea, was banned from driving after speeding down the M3 at 140mph in his BMW. He pleaded guilty to driving while banned, attempting to pervert the course of justice and dangerous driving, and narrowly avoided a custodial sentence.

Mr Chodiev's daughters live in apartments overlooking the Thames. One apartment is an address that Mr Chodiev has filed with Belgian prosecutors.

Norman Lamb MP, a member of the Treasury Select Committee, said: "The proceedings in Belgium have to be taken very seriously. I will be asking the Home Secretary whether they have done any work on oligarchs' wealth and whether there are any concerns in government about this rapidly growing trend."

Comments