Posted on Apr 25, 2020
At 4pm on the 17th June 2008 Michael Rebo, an outwardly respectable estate agent based in Berlin, was arrested in the city near to an apartment he owned and used as an office in the affluent Charlottenburg district. The news shocked the German capital's Jewish community.
Rebo, a Russian immigrant from St Petersburg, had risen to the top of the capital's Jewish society. He had been a member of the central council of German Jews and stood for election to the local council. His arrest was linked to the arrest of 20 alleged members of the Russian mafia on June 13th.
The arrest didn't surprise one of neighbours in the apartment block, according to a report in Der Tagesspiegel. They had always thought of him as a mafioso. The neighbour, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals, noticed that Rebo always ‘drove the most expensive cars’ and that there were a succession of different women at the apartment.
The police had also searched Rebo's villa in the city's elegant Grunewald district where he lived with his second wife, Tatiana. Tatiana Rebo was a deputy manager at the Berlin branch of Latvia's Parex bank, an institution whose owners were associated with Russia's Tambov mafia. Yet despite his arrest and trial, Rebo and his wife are again back in business in Germany. How did this happen?
Rebo would spend most of the next decade on trial in Spain. In 2018 he and his fellow defendant, Leonid Khazin, confessed to money laundering for Sergei Kuzmin and Alexander Malyshev respectively. Kuzmin was a shareholder in Bank Rossiya which is referred to by the US treasury as 'the personal bank for senior officials of the Russian Federation’. Rebo would have received a reduced prison term of two years and a €1.6m fine if the judges had found him guilty of the offences he had acknowledged.
However, the FSB's intervention resulted in the bizarre acquittal of all the suspects on 18th October 2018. The court ruled that they had no way of determining the exact source of the defendants' income, so they could disregard the confessions and fully acquit them. The financial operations he admitted to certainly resemble classic money laundering; funds from offshore companies were invested in Spain and the proceeds were funnelled back to Russia.
His wife Tatiana and the Berlin branch of Parex were intrinsic elements in these operations. The prosecution evidence included faxes addressed to her detailing payments to members of the gang and utilising accounts at her branch of Parex.
However, after their acquittal, the Rebos became involved in some interesting business ventures in Germany. A firm called Sutor Handels GmbH was established on 16th August 2019. The details in the registry are scant but the firm appears to be an asset holding company. Tatiana Rebo and a German banker, Thomas Kickermann, have both at different times been registered as the directors of the firm. Kickermann is also a partner at vPE Bank which was established in 1989 and manages its head office at the Potsdamer Platz in Berlin.
The bank's focus interestingly lies on the ‘rediscovery of trust in asset management’. In 2018, the bank became the first in Germany to offer a crypto currency service to its institutional and professional clients. A promising young investment manager Boris Rebo works at the Berlin office of vPE bank and provides technical support to its crypto currency clients. Boris Rebo and Michael Rebo were at different periods the managing directors of another family firm, BEJA City Grundbesitz GmbH, which specialises in the purchase and sale of real estate.
The Rebo family's businesses in Germany are of course entirely innocent as indeed is Michael Rebo (pictured left), following the verdict of the Spanish court. There is no implication that either of them were in any way involved in the transactions for which Michael Rebo was tried. Boris Rebo, Thomas Kickermann and vPE bank are not in anyway tainted by their links to a man who can now resume his life after a decade of legal proceedings.
However, there are important unanswered questions about the verdict of the Spanish court and what it means, or does not mean, for European justice.
Similarly, the growing use of cryptocurrency services by banks raises important questions both economically and in terms of law enforcement and national security. These are not of course in any way pertinent to vPE bank.
The powers in Brussels who deal with the application of justice across the EU may or may not see the acquittal in Spain as a triumph of natural justice. They may be unconcerned at the growing penetration of Europe by businesses with questionable links to Russia. Michael Rebo's career and the acquittal of his Russian associates raises important questions about the validity of law enforcement across national borders in the EU.
Yet Brussels does not appear to have examined the case or considered the dangers of allowing the FSB, an organisation with known mafia links, to lobby a court to secure the acquittal of alleged mafiosi.
The Spanish trial might have been the triumph of wronged innocence. However, some might argue that it shows how a predatory and hostile state can target the national courts in an EU member state to facilitate the acquittal of criminals. The case suggests that one of the foundations of the European project, the possibility of effective and equitable law enforcement across the EU, may not be viable.
More articles by Stephen Komarnyckyj:
- The Atlantic Council: independent think tank, or lobbyists for oligarchs?
- The KGB enters the European Parliament
- The Ghosts of Christmas Past...
- Latvia, the Law and the EU - How a corrupt post communist country abused the trust of the EU
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