A son of Moldova’s ex-premier, who drove a Bentley and paid £1,000-a-day rent, was ordered Thursday to hand over nearly half a million pounds, Britain’s National Crime Agency said.
NCA investigators found that Vlad Filat’s 22-year-old son Luca had obtained his wealth “from illegal activity by his father”.
Funds held by the son in three bank accounts were to be seized and he “must hand over nearly half a million pounds” (570,000 euros, $650,000 million), an NCA statement said.
In 2015, Vlad Filat was stripped of his immunity and handcuffed in Moldova’s parliament after he allegedly accepted $260 million in bribes.
Filat was then jailed for nine years for his role in the disappearance of $1.0 billion — the equivalent of 10 percent of Moldova’s GDP — while heading the government between 2009 and 2013.
The tiny former Soviet republic on Romania’s eastern border is one of Europe’s poorest countries, and it ranks 117 out of 180 on Transparency International’s 2018 corruption perceptions index.
Filat’s son came under scrutiny because he splashed around cash on a life of luxury while having “no registered income in the UK,” the NCA said.
Police said the younger Filat nonetheless managed to pay £390,000 up front to rent a penthouse in a posh London neighbourhood favoured by the global elite.
Records showed that he also bought a £200,000 Bentley sedan shortly after moving to London to begin his studies in 2016.
The NCA said Luca Filat’s three accounts with HSBC bank were “funded by large deposits from overseas companies, mainly based in Turkey and the Cayman Islands”.
A London court ordered the money forfeited under provisions of a new law designed to crack down on money laundering — a problem coming under renewed scrutiny in Britain.
“I am satisfied on the balance of probabilities that the cash was derived from his father’s criminal conduct in Moldova,” judge Michael Snow said.
The three accounts were frozen last May while investigators checked where the funds had come from.
UK authorities have faced years of criticism for allegedly turning a blind eye to money laundering operations that have helped push property prices on elite London homes to astronomical levels.
The NCA’s pushback began with the 2017 Criminal Finances Act.
The measure introduced the use of so-called Unexplained Wealth Orders to force financial crime suspects to reveal their sources of income.
They were first used late last year in the case of an Azerbaijani woman who spent £16 million at London’s Harrods department store.
She is now fighting an Azerbaijani extradition request. Her husband was jailed in Baku for defrauding a state bank.
Luca Filat’s case involved the use of a separate UK police instrument known as an Account Freezing Order.
“Where we suspect money in an account is the proceeds of crime, we can apply to the court to freeze and then forfeit the sums,” NCA’s International Corruption Unit office Rob MacArthur said.
But corruption fighters with the Global Witness NGO said the NCA must now go a step further and find out why neither Luca Filat’s bank nor car dealership had flagged up suspicious activity before.
“The National Crime Agency should now be asking the bank, the university, the estate agent and the car dealer what checks they made on this suspicious spender and his Cayman Island companies.” Global Witness’s Ava Lee said.