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Tuesday, October 20, 2020

FinCEN Files: Arms agent kin’s firms routed funds via Russia, Seychelles and Israel

The firms were part of a financial structure set up by the family and associates of London-based international arms agent Sudhir Choudhrie.

Written by Jay Mazoomdaar | New Delhi | Updated: September 26, 2020 7:31:45 am
110 media organisations in 88 countries teamed up with ICIJ and BuzzFeed News to trace the Indian entities and banks named in these SARs filed with FinCEN between 1999 and 2017.

Two firms in the British Virgin Islands, Anterna Limited and Belinea Services Limited, made over 200 transactions of at least $118 million between 2009 and 2014 as three global banks kept flagging the wires for suspected “money laundering/structuring” without blocking any.

The firms were part of a financial structure set up by the family and associates of London-based international arms agent Sudhir Choudhrie.

The transactions were flagged by US branches of Bank of China (BOC), Bank of New York Mellon (BNYM), and JPMorgan Chase (JPMC) in 10 Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) filed with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) of the US Department of Treasury between 2010 and 2017, records investigated by The Indian Express show.

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As reported by The Indian Express in the Panama Papers investigation in 2016, Sudhir Choudhrie’s son Bhanu was director of Belinea Services Limited and Anterna Limited, two companies set up in the BVI in October 2002.

Bhanu resigned as Anterna’s director in January 2016 after the company’s shares were transferred from Protype Services Inc (Seychelles) to Sumant Kapur, son of Sudhir’s uncle BK Kapur, a former chairman of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited.

According to Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca’s records, Dubai-based businessman Aman Chopra joined Bhanu on the board of Belinea in May 2010 and held the shares of Hollister Consulting Inc (Seychelles), the sole shareholder of Belinea.

In November 2016, an internal communication of Mossack Fonseca recorded the client’s confirmation that Belinea would be struck off the BVI register.

In the SARs, the transactions between 2009 and 2014 show that Anterna had an address in Israel and accounts with two Israeli banks — Union Bank of Israel and Bank Hapolim BM.

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Belinea, on the other hand, used Mossack Fonseca’s Seychelles address and transacted through Vnesheconombank (Moscow), a Russian state corporation, and Bank of China (Suisse). Incidentally, Belinea transferred at least $5.7 million between the two bank accounts in Russia and Switzerland “for the purpose of investment in that region”.

The SARs described Belinea and Anterna as “publically unidentifiable” entities exhibiting high-risk transaction patterns such as repetitive, large and round dollar amounts sent in clusters with multiple payments on the same day with no apparent economic, business, or lawful purpose, large imbalance in funds sent against funds received, and use of “accommodation addresses” in offshore jurisdictions.

JPMorgan Chase also flagged four family members of Sudhir Choudhrie and an offshore company to FinCEN.

An August 2016 SAR reported 13 transactions, totaling $1.84 million between May 2015 and January 2016, involving Choudhrie’s sons Bhanu and Dhairya; Bhanu’s wife Simrin; Dhairya’s wife Karina, and Optima International Group SA, a firm registered by Mossack Fonseca in the BVI.

According to Mossack Fonseca’s records, Optima International was incorporated in BVI in July 2007 for the purpose of “investment holding in Switzerland” and Bhanu Choudhrie was the ultimate beneficial owner.

The source of funds was “distribution of the UBO family trust” that collected dividends from the UBO’s various businesses. Three Choudhrie family trusts — Keys Trust, CDC Trust, and CSA Trust — held equal shares in Optima through a trustee firm in Guernsey and later in Switzerland.

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Days after the Panama Papers investigation was published in April 2016, Mossack Fonseca decided to drop Optima International as a client, and filed a SAR with the BVI Financial Investigation Agency.

Reached for comment, a spokesperson for JPMorgan Chase, citing legal reasons not to respond to specific queries, said: “We follow all laws and regulations in support of the government’s work to combat financial crimes.”

Bank of China and Bank of New York Mellon did not respond to multiple emails for comment.

Emails and phone calls to Choudhrie family firm London-based C&C Alpha Group did not elicit any response. Bhanu Choudhrie, Aman Chopra and Sumant Kapur, too, did not respond to emails for comment.

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