How a Bristol barber shop links Boston marathon bomb probe and host of international corruption scandals — Finance Uncovered

The Bristol connection

Abital LP, like Rivelham LP, was an unusual type of anonymous U.K. shell company, formed using obscure partnership laws in England and Wales that date back to 1907.

As a corporate form, ELPs are rarely used because they do not have “legal personality”. That means they cannot carry out basic business functions such as owning property or entering into a contract.

Nevertheless, the Bristol shop became one of the first U.K. addresses to play host to large numbers of anonymous shell company ELPs, each of them giving the Fishponds address in official paperwork though they had no connection to the property.

In total, research by Finance Uncovered and the BBC found that at least 197 anonymously-owned English limited partnerships (ELPs) were registered to Cil’s shop. Most, but not all, were set up before Cil bought the lease.

In addition, more than 200 other types of partnerships and limited companies have also been registered to the Fishponds store over the years — many of them then being abruptly dissolved before they were required to produce their first set of annual financial statements.

The most recent uninvited addition was a limited company created in February this year, owned and operated by an Uzbek businessman based in the country’s resource-rich eastern region of Namangan.

Riga calling

Cil knows nothing about these companies. In 2018, he told The Bristol Cable, a local magazine, how, shortly after buying the property, he had received a phone call from Latvia. The caller was Vitālijs Šavlovs, a specialist in company formations, who asked Cil to continue receiving mail in exchange for a payment of £300. Cil agreed.

Cil no longer sticks by the account he gave the Bristol Cable, however. Speaking to Finance Uncovered earlier this month, he claimed there had been no phone call from Latvia and no agreement about mail. “I never know the name Šavlovs,“ he said.

Cil nevertheless confirmed that letters continue to arrive every day at the barbershop, each one addressed to a company unknown to him or the barbers who now work there. The unwanted mail is now returned to its senders, Cil said.

“What do I need to do to stop this? Obviously, someone is using the address without our permission, or without my tenant’s permission,” he told Finance Uncovered. “​​I will definitely sort this out. This is too much now.”

“Complete confidentiality”

The website for B2B Solutions, published in both Russian and English until it was closed down very recently, was one of the ways the agency marketed its anonymous offshore companies. The site assured customers that Šavlovs’s network had close relationships with several European banks that would “guarantee clients complete confidentiality”.

On the FAQ page, it explained that even in countries where information about a company’s owners was made public — a reference, presumably, to countries such the U.K. — “confidentiality is ensured by the use of nominee shareholders and directors”.

A second website used by Šavlovs’s network,, was also published in Russian until it too was recently shut down. Until then, it listed the network’s partner banks, including Latvia’s Rietumu, ABLV and Norvikbanka. All three have been fined in relation to money laundering, with ABLV and Norvikbanka (later called PNB Bank) being forced to close.

In 2015, a journalist from BNE Intellinews visited Šavlovs’s Riga office and found a neon sign for Austria’s Bank Meinl hanging above the door. Asked about its relationship with Šavlovs, the bank later insisted he was not one of their representatives, though it would not say whether the bank had a partner relationship with him.

Four years later, the European Central Bank revoked the banking licence for Bank Meinl, by then renamed Anglo Austrian Bank, amid compliance failures and money laundering concerns.

Finance Uncovered has seen no evidence that the Arran Consult network, or Šavlovs — or any of the companies they set up on behalf of clients — were connected to alleged money laundering at ABLV, Rietumu, Norvikbanka or Bank Meinl.

Scottish Secrecy

Though Šavlovs’s network offered clients offshore companies in well-known secrecy havens such as Belize, British Virgin Islands, Panama, companies registered in the U.K. were a speciality. As early as 2007, Šavlovs’s organisation set up two businesses —Arran Business Services and Arran Secretaries — at a modest residential house in Pilton, a deprived suburb of Edinburgh, the Scottish capital.

These two firms were deployed over and over as front companies, masking the identity of the ultimate owners of scores of companies.

Meanwhile, Šavlovs and Arran operatives used other nominee companies, based in offshore secrecy havens, to form anonymous shell companies under Scottish partnership law. Before long, however, some of these Scottish firms were linked to significant scandals.

In 2014, a British judge said Šavlovs had been a “trusted acquaintance” of a trader at Russian bank Otkritie who conspired to embezzle $175 million from the bank. He had helped the banker to create and secretly control Mauchline Ltd, which the judge found was “a shell company, with no real activity, used as a means of removing funds beyond the reach of [Otkritie].” The judge did not suggest Šavlovs participated in, or even knew of, wrong-doing.

In 2012, a United Nations report into arms embargo breaches in the Ivory Coast included emails that showed how, three years earlier, a UK company called Performance Global Limited had been linked to Captain Anselme Seka Yapo, a former military leader who was subject to European Union sanctions and accused of illegal weapons trafficking. Performance Global Limited had been set up by Arran, which provided nominees and proxies that obscured the identity of the individuals who really controlled the company.

Finance Uncovered and the BBC called and wrote to Šavlovs but received no response. Some of those who had previously had business dealings with him said they had cut ties.

There is no suggestion that Šavlovs participated in or knew of wrong-doing linked to any of those companies.

When journalists phoned “Olga” — the woman who had occasionally retrieved letters from the Fishponds address in Birmingham — to ask about Arran she said: “It’s nothing to do with me,” and hung up.


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Publish date : 2022-08-05 11:15:53

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