Posted on Sep 27, 2019
The use of pre-paid credit cards, anonymous as they are, has been a matter of controversy for some time. Even more so since it was reported that Salah Abdeslam, a key figure in the Paris terrorist atrocities of November 13th 2015, used such cards as he moved around Europe making logistical arrangements for the terrorists, booking hotel rooms and paying for the transportation of those who would carry out the murderous attacks. He also helped with the manufacture of explosives, purchasing detonators, batteries, and significant quantities of substances used in bomb making .
Whilst the case of Abdeslam is an extreme example, as pre-paid cards are generally considered by most as a means by which those who work in the black economy can hide their earnings from the prying eyes of the taxman, quietly and behind the scenes, these cards are a major factor in the laundering of vast sums of money by organised criminal networks.
Prepaid credit cards are still used too often by criminals and terrorists today because they guarantee anonymity below certain amounts. … Such cards must become traceable, which will of course make their use a lot less attractive. In any case, this will mean terrorists have more trouble slipping through the net.
In 2013, the Kazakh fugitive oligarch Mukhtar Ablyazov, described by London’s Evening Standard in December 2013 as ‘the world’s richest fugitive,’ - he is believed to have embezzled as much as $7.6 billion from Kazakhstan’s BTA bank, of which he was head - acquired a 75% stake in a payment card processing French company Creacard S.A. To this day he allegedly retains ownership of this investment.
The purchase price of €2.1 - 5 million euros was financed by laundered money from the sale of Nostrum Oil and Gas PLC shares, investments apparently being made through the head of the company Lloyd LaMarca, a citizen of Switzerland.
Creacard S.A. is the largest prepaid bank card company in France and owns the branded payment card systems (PCS) and PCS Mastercard. The company was founded in 2010 by Philippe Cohen-Boulakia and Philip Aim, who launched their first cards in 2011. Both of these individuals remained on the Board of Directors. In 2014, the company entered into a partnership agreement with Mastercard for its prepaid cards and the corresponding mobile wallet application.
Ablyazov’s son-in-law, Ilyas Khrapunov (pictured left), who has been named in court as an associate in his money laundering activities, including through Donald Trump property enterprises for Ablyazov’s benefit, also led shell companies on his behalf. Khrapunov has multiple outstanding arrest and extradition warrants outstanding in his name, as does his father, Viktor, a former Mayor of the Kazakh city of Almaty, who also has outstanding warrants in his name. Both father and son are currently resident in Switzerland, like Lloyd LaMarca, an associate of Ilyas.
As well as the Khrapunovs, Ablyazov’s syndicate includes such as Felix Sater, a convicted criminal with close links to Russia, and former Trump Organisation executive Daniel Ridloff.
Sater helped Ablyazov, Khrapunov, and others launder tens of millions of dollars in those stolen funds into the United States, where they were invested in real estate and used to procure immigration status for Khrapunov’s sister. Sater also tried to help them stash some of the stolen money overseas, including in real estate in Moscow. Sater then turned on his criminal confederates and stole at least $40 million of the money he had laundered into the United States for his own personal benefit and the benefit of his associate, Daniel Ridloff.
The court is on record as saying about Ablyazov’s syndicate “While it has often been said that “there is honour among thieves,” the Defendants in this case make that idiom hard to credit. This case is about some seriously dishonourable thieves.”
The court is absolutely unequivocal in condemning Ablyazov, stating that “Mukhtar Ablyazov was the Chairman of BTA Bank from May 2005 until February 2009. During that time, he looted billions of dollars from BTA, in part through a complex scheme directing billions of dollars in sham loans from BTA to valueless entities that Ablyazov himself secretly owned, which were then obscured by transfers among different shell corporations, and never repaid”.
According to EU Today's sources, Ablyazov’s purchase of Creacard S.A. was made in order to launder money and ensure cash flow in order to fund his efforts towards sanitising his image within the institutions of the EU. To this end he employs the services of a so-called “Human Rights” NGO, the Warsaw/Brussels based Open Dialogue Foundation (ODF), which he himself is widely believed to have set upper the purpose. ODF itself has been implicated in the laundering of Ablyazov’s stolen money, through shell companies in Scotland. Its key clients, which include the Khrapunovs, all appear on wanted lists around the world, and generally the charges will involve money laundering.
This would also provide a means of easily receiving anonymous prepaid credit cards for personal use by members of Ablyazov’s criminal syndicate, creating an almost untraceable cash flow system.
However, in 2016-2017, new rules on the anonymity of users of prepaid cards came into force after serious concerns about the use of these cards by the aforementioned terrorists. National authorities will now be able to exchange data more easily in order to gain better insight in who exactly is behind suspicious financial transactions, those trading in virtual currencies, such as Bitcoin, are now also subject to anti-money laundering regulations.
WANTED MAN: THE STORY OF MUKHTAR ABLYAZOV: A Manual for Criminals on How to Avoid Punishment in the EU by Gary Cartwright is available on Amazon
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