INVESTIGATION

Money Hunters

20/07/2015

Moldova has been the target of international organized crime organizations, specializing in bank fraud and money laundering. Prosecutors say that in recent years, nine people from three continents came to Chișinău to launder more than US$ 3 billion. Armed with business cards identifying themselves as big investors and fake contracts, they allegedly tried to steal the money of a Colombian drug cartel, deposited in an account in the biggest private bank of Germany: the Deutsche Bank AG. RISE has investigated the suspects, including the activities of a candidate in the presidential elections of the African state of Gabon and the wife of a former Moldovan judge, involved in the Russian Laundromat theft of US$ 20 billion.

At the beginning of July 2015, the officers of the Moldovan National Anticorruption Center (NAC) arrested eight foreign citizens in a money-laundering case; a ninth was hospitalized. The members of the international group—including three Frenchmen, two Mexicans, a Dominican, a Canadian, an American, and one Gabonian, are suspected of “associating, agreeing upon and complicity in committing money laundering in especially large proportions.” Details, HERE

Sport cars for the Dakar Rally
The story began in Chisinau on June 4, 2013, when French citizen Francis Sabatie established a company called Buggy Car Design SRL. Ownership was divided between Sabatie (30 percent); two other French citizens, Pierre Troullioud de Lanversin (30 percent) and Gilles Montardy (30 percent); with the last 10 percent held by Silvia Gorun, the wife of Gheorghe Gorun, a former judge from the Râșcani District Court of Chișinău. Details, HERE

Buggy Car Design registered with the stated intention of attracting foreign investments for manufacturing sport cars with electric engines to compete in the Dakar Rally. Buggy Car Design had its premises at 75/7 Alba Iulia Street in Chișinău and rented space in a workshop of the Professional School No.6 (Details, HERE). “The French worked for three months on a sports car prototype whose carcass can still be seen in the workshop yard. They’ve already left,” the school guardian said.

Based on documents reviewed by RISE, the three Frenchmen left Moldova in August 2013, returning to Chișinău at the beginning of 2015, ostensibly to continue investing in the production of sport cars. In an interview on Pro TV, Sabatie said that the project anticipated “attracting € 148 million over four years.” A fourth man, Michel Francois Valette, appeared in the same report and introduced himself as a Swiss investor.

Sabatie and Valette created a ruckus at the beginning of June when the Bureau for Migration and Asylum allegedly delayed extending an invitation to Moldova for Sanches Espinal Nixon Aramis, an engineer from the Dominican Republic and a specialist in electric cars. “We will have to leave because if they refuse to allow us to bring in our experts, we will have to leave and look for other countries, such as Indonesia or Malaysia,” Valette told TV reporters.

Prosecutors, however, say that Buggy Car Design SRL was created to facilitate access to Moldova for international mobsters specializing in bank frauds and money laundering. The fraudsters would arrive in Chișinău to allegedly “study the business environment of Moldova.” But, in reality, investigators say, they came to carry out fraudulent transactions.

Starting in March, the following suspects entered the country: French citizen Alain Atlani; Mexicans Ramirez Jose Alfredo Ramirez and Lopez Perales Heriberto; William Rosa Jr., an American; a Canadian, Victorine Heudja; and Gabonian Mike Steeve Jocktane. Prosecutors say they brought with them false contracts and business cards as big investors.

30 MARCH 2015. A new company, Cofinex-Camondo Finance & FX SRL, was created by the Canadian citizens Victorine Heudja (48.5 percent of shares) and Ilunga Ngoy (2 percent), a Turkish citizen, Mahir Zara (48.5 percent) and the former judge’s wife Silvia Gorun with 1 percent. The company, said to specialize in “financial intermediations and precious metal activities,” has its premises in Silvia Gorun’s apartment. Details, HERE

According to the NAC, the group members planned to conduct large fraudulent international bank transactions through a number of accounts opened in several foreign banks. In order to carry out the transactions, the group members hired hackers whose task was to penetrate the banks’ information systems, investigators say.

Silvia Gorun, the former judge’s wife and Buggy Car Design SRL’s manager, said: “They were speaking on the phone about large amounts of money, trillions, millions… They were not talking about this at Moldova’s level but at a global level… not about Moldova and money laundering. No penny moved in any bank.”  She said that prosecutors found nothing when they searched the suspects’ living quarters. “When they searched, they destroyed the room of the woman where they were renting. Did they believe that there were sacks with money under their beds? They only found some pennies in their pockets.”

Prosecutors say the suspects were planning to conduct fraudulent bank operations through accounts they had opened at Moldova’s Victoriabank in the name of the World Development Organization (created in 2011 in Paris), Buggy Car Design and Cofinex-Camondo Finance & FX SRL. At the same bank, the group opened a number of bank accounts in the names of seven of the group members.

Said Silvia Gorun: “They opened bank accounts so that we could work and in order to transfer some money from abroad. Money with documents, not money out of the blue. I cannot bet that they all were clean because I don’t know all of them…”

The money of the Colombian drug cartel
In mid-2015, prosecutors say, the group members negotiated with their hired hackers about attacking the servers of international banks to gain access to accounts of billions of dollars. Here’s how the scam was supposed to work, according to the prosecutors.

The first target was to be the Deutsche Bank AG, Germany’s largest private bank and one of the most important financial institutions in the world. At least four Moldovan and Romanian hackers were to attack the bank’s servers to obtain bank data, codes and access passwords to an inactive bank account containing several billion dollars that belonged to a Colombian drug cartel.

The stolen money was to be withdrawn through the accounts opened in the suspects’ names in the banks of Moldova and other countries; later the money was to be transferred to the accounts of offshore companies.

The second target was to be the Hong Kong branch of HSBC. The hackers intended to attack the servers and obtain access to an account with about US$ 134 billion that had been opened at the Hong Kong branch of the British bank HSBC.

According to an investigator who worked on the case, “In fact, there is no money in the account but securities from China,” which apparently had no intrinsic value. “Amounts of two or three billion were to be transferred from this account to The Bank of New York Mellon Corp. (BNY), and from there to the group’s account in a Moldovan bank.

“The (Moldovan bank) was to confirm the receipt of the transfer and immediately, from other countries, there were supposed to come requests for the payment of this money. The Moldovan bank was supposed to execute them within 72 hours. An eventual implementation of this scheme would have led to a collapse of the Moldovan bank because it did not have such financial resources,” the investigator said.

Commission for the Vatican cardinals
The third target involved the transfer of US$ 2 billion from BNY to Deutsche Bank; then, via Credit Suisse and the Institute for the Works of Religion (commonly known as the Vatican Bank), finally US$ 100 million arrived in the bank accounts of the suspects. “Here they did manage to transfer an amount of US$ 110 million, of which US$ 10 million arrived in the accounts of some Vatican cardinals, in the form of a donation, while in reality they are a commission. The rest arrived in the personal accounts of the group members,” a prosecutor said.

Silvia Gorun dismissed the prosecutors’ claims as laughable. “They said that we had invited some persons to launder money through this company. This is not fair. We wanted to implement the project here but if they behaved like that, no investors will come to us. They have thrown all the foreigners out of the city. They are not to blame. They only talked…”

Adrian POPENCO, Acting Anticorruption Prosecutor: “Three persons are in a thirty-day arrest (Michel Francois Valette, Ramirez Jose Aifredo Ramirez, Espinal Nixon Aramis Sanchez – editor’s note). The rest of the persons involved are under judicial control and in regard to some of them, the interdiction to not leave the country has been applied. Silvia Gorun currently does not have the procedural quality of suspect or accused, and the investigations are ongoing. No damages were caused to the Moldovan Bank because the criminal investigation body intervened to prevent eventual damages.”

Business cards of big investors and elite mobsters
Silvia Gorun, a witness in the money laundering case, is the wife of attorney Gheorghe Gorun, a former judge at the Râșcani District Court of Chisinau. As judge, Gheorghe Gorun in 2010 issued the first court ruling in the biggest money laundering operation in Eastern Europe (US$ 20 billion) that transited Moldova between 2010 and 2014. Gorun issued three rulings based on fake contracts and copies of documents through which criminal organizations and corrupt politicians of Russia laundered US$ 790 million.

Gheorghe Gorun left the judiciary with his head up. On 5 July 2013, three months after the last ruling by which the judge “legalized” € 3.5 million based on fictitious contracts, the Disciplinary Board of the Superior Council of Magistracy (SCM) imposed on Gorun the disciplinary sanction “in the form of a proposal to resign from the judicial office.” In February 2014, at the judge’s request, the SCM amended the decision of the Disciplinary Board by which Gorun ended up with the disciplinary sanction “in the form of severe reprimand.” (Details, HERE) On the same day, the magistrate wrote a request for resignation from the judicial office invoking his precarious health condition. One month later, Gheorghe Gorun received his lawyer’s license. Details, HERE

Mike Steeve Jocktane, a suspect in the money laundering case, is a Gabonese and French citizen born in 1972; he is a politician and one of the influential leaders of the Gabonese opposition. Between 2005 and 2009 he was the personal counselor of the Gabonese president Omar Bongo, accused in many corruption cases, a dictator who ruled the country from 1967 until his death in 2009. In 2011, Jocktane told the French newspaper Liberation that Bongo had funded the 2007 presidential election campaign of the former French president Nicolas Sarkozy. Details, HERE

In the 2009 Gabonian presidential elections, Jocktane was campaign director for opposition leader Andre Mba Obame, who was defeated by Bongo’s son. In April 2015, Andre Mba Obame died and Jocktane claimed “Obame was poisoned by his political opponents.” Jocktane intends to run in the 2016 presidential elections of Gabon to take place in 2016.

Michel Francois Valette is a French citizen, born in 1954. He is the president of the Organisation Mondiale de Developpement (World Development Organization, or OMD), a non-governmental organization in Paris that aims at “global economic development.” Prosecutors allege that Valette told the other suspects that previously he had worked as counselor to former French president Jacques Chirac.

Silvia Gorun said Valette “is connected to the Pentagon in relation to very serious issues. They came to open an OMD branch in Moldova because it is global. I’ve been trying to convince them for about five years that Moldova is good for investments, so that we have money here, production… I wanted to introduce three members of this organization into the company as investors because they have money. They are simple but rich!”

Espinal Nixon Aramis, Dominican citizen, born in 1970. He is a specialist in the area of electric cars.
Francis Yves Jacques Sabatie was born in 1966, in Saint-Cere, France. In Romania, he appears as shareholder in three companies. Two of them have been deleted from the registry but the third one is active: Orpall Consulting Business SRL, a business consulting and management company in which he holds 50 percent of the shares.
Ramirez Jose Alfredo Ramirez is a Mexican citizen, born in 1957. Ramirez is a member of the Executive Board of the OMD. Silvia Gorun told RISE that “Ramirez is a diplomat. He didn’t come to Moldova with his diplomatic passport but with a simple one.”
Alain Atlani is a French citizen, born in 1945. He is vice-president of the OMD. “Atlani has his own private jet company,” Silvia Gorun said.
Perales Heriberto Lopez is a Mexican citizen, born in 1963.
Victorine Heudja is a Canadian citizen, born in 1968. She is secretary at the Canadian Center for Multiethnic Assistance and at the Assistance Center Mont-Carmel in Canada.
William Rosa Jr. is a US citizen, born in 1950. Based on the information of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, he is a suspect in a number of major bank fraud attempts in the US and United Kingdom between 2010 and 2015.

Iurie SANDUȚA and Ion PREAȘCA

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