Czechia slams Cyprus for hiding information on Russian oligarchs

The Czech Financial Analytical Office, which has the power to freeze the assets of Russian oligarchs, is complaining about Cyprus’ reluctance to provide information on the owners of companies – meaning Czech efforts to find and punish Russian oligarchs often fails.

As Hospodářské noviny reported, the head of the Financial Analytical Office, Jiri Hylmar, complained about the cooperation with some European countries to the Czech Senate.

“Today, I received a reply from Cyprus that our counterpart there is not competent in international sanctions, and I will not receive the requested information,” Hylmar said during a meeting of the Czech Senate on Tuesday (26 April), adding that tracks of suspicious assets often lead to Cyprus.

Until last year, Cyprus allowed completely secret ownership of companies as there was no official register of beneficial owners. Moreover, hundreds of thousands of companies are based there because of the tax advantages. Russian oligarchs also hid assets in Cyprus for many years and benefited from the island’s golden visa policy.

While the EU has been pressing Cyprus for years to take action against money laundering, the country has been reluctant to implement reforms.

However, barriers laid by the Cypriot authorities are not the only obstacle preventing the Czech authorities from seeking out Russian oligarchs. Better legislation and more staff are also needed to facilitate the search and freezing of assets, the Financial Office chief said.

Czech authorities often rely on stories published by independent media. “We also react to media suggestions. When we read that there might be assets somewhere, we follow such a clue,” Hylmar admitted.

Nicosia, together with Athens and Valetta’s governments, blocked sanctions aiming to ban Russian ships or those with Russian interests from EU ports earlier this month, EURACTIV Greece reported.

Malta is also popular with Russians due to its controversial cash-for-passports scheme, which has seen several oligarchs close to Russian President Vladimir Putin gain EU citizenship.

Particularly, the European Commission had proposed banning all ships with a Russian flag or with another flag, i.e. Panama, but of Russian ownership. 

Ships with a Russian flag have been banned from EU ports, while proposed sanctions also to ban ships with another flag but with Russian interests have been vetoed by the three countries.