By Ian Fraser and Richard Smith

It's a humble ground-floor flat in Royston Mains Street in Pilton - the Edinburgh housing estate made notorious by Trainspotting, Irvine Welsh's drugs and crime-soaked novel.

The property is the home of a 36-year-old Lithuanian, Viktorija Zirnelyte. It is also home to hundreds of companies, some of which have recently been accused of involvement in a $1 billion Moldovan bank fraud.

Of the 438 firms legitimately registered at the modest looking address, some are owned by offshore vehicles based in jurisdictions such as the Seychelles.

Owing to a quirk of company law and lax UK regulation, Scottish limited partnerships, which date back to the Limited Partnerships Act of 1907, are still not required to disclose their annual accounts or even the names of the people who control them. Ownership and control can be masked and layered through the use of faceless "general partners" and "limited partners", and these are often based in secrecy jurisdictions like the Marshall Islands, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Belize and the Seychelles.

In addition to being favoured because of their tax efficiency by private equity, venture capital funds and commercial property investors, investigators claim they have become attractive to money launderers, tax evaders, fraudsters, and other forms of skulduggery. Companies quite lawfully offering no more than registration services and accommodation addresses can then be used as unwitting instruments in crime.

READ MORE: Trail of loot from £1bn heist led to door of Scots shell firms

"Most [limited partnerships], like a drug dealer's pay-as-you-go mobile phone, almost certainly exist for one deal before they are discarded," said former tax inspector Richard Brooks. In a special report published in Private Eye he added: "Those deals, however, can be extremely valuable to the perpetrators - while devastating their victims and sustaining corrupt regimes."

Zirnelyte's modest flat is the address of two company formation firms, Royston Business Consultancy, which Zirnelyte runs, and Arran Business Services, directed by a succession of Latvian expatriates, including Anzelika Young, nee Trifonova, who was sentenced to 250 hours community service for mortgage fraud in February 2012 at Kirkcaldy Sherriff Court.

Royston Business Consultancy played a part in the formation of companies that were named by the security firm Kroll as having facilitated a massive Moldovan bank fraud which, last November,is said to have triggered the collapse of three Moldovan banks, and last month led to 20,000 people taking to the streets of the Moldovan capital Chisinau to protest against corruption.

The Herald:

In a report commissioned by Moldova's central bank, and leaked last month, Kroll alleged that Fortuna United LP and Novland Limited, both registered at 18/2 Royston Mains Street, were involved in fraud.

Companies House data shows that, since 2013, no fewer than eight other individuals, apparently Lithuanian, Latvian and Ukrainian nationals, have given Zirnelyte's flat as their residential address. Zirnelyte was unavailable for comment. Calls to Edinburgh numbers listed as her business number were answered by the Royston Wardieburn Community Centre, where Zirnelyte was unknown.

Zirnelyte picked up her company formation skills at Leith-based company formation specialists Lawsons & Co, which is based in Duke Street, at the foot of Leith Walk, and run by the Cypriot-born businessman Marios Papantoniou.

Lawsons provide the registered addresses for 561 limited companies and limited partnerships, several of which have been named as being under investigation overseas in connection with allegations of a $20bn "Russian Laundromat" money laundering conspiracy. In November the UK National Crime Agency confirmed it was probing aspects of the 'laundromat'.

According to the Kroll report, Lawsons' premises, shared with Papantonioiu's accountancy firm Axiano, are also the registered addresses of half a dozen companies and limited partnerships allegedly involved in the Moldovan bank fraud.

Papantoniou told the Sunday Herald that Lawsons is not responsible for the behaviour of firms registered at its addresses and that neither the National Crime Agency nor any other UK authority has been in touch with him. He said: "Some of the companies we create are sold to an agent in Estonia, but we are not involved in the day-to-day activities of these companies or anything else they do." In a subsequent email, Papantoniou said the Kroll report was inaccurate and he is considering suing the New York headquartered firm for defamation.

Other Scottish properties hosting companies allegedly involved in Moldovan fraud include a non-descript semi-detached council house, 45 Rosehaugh Road, in Inverness's deprived South Kessock district. This is home to a further 585 opaque limited partnerships, five of which, Kroll alleges, were used for the Moldovan heist. The Electoral Register says the residents of 45 Rosehaugh Road are David A MacMillan and Latvian-born Liene Brice, both in their thirties. They could not be contacted.

Another address favoured by companies said to be linked to fraud is 78 Montgomery Street in Edinburgh's East End, home of John Hein, founder of Scotsgay magazine and a former candidate for the Liberal Party, and his partner James Stuart McMeekin. Both Hein and McMeekin are directors of a company formation business named Cosun Formations Ltd.

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Montgomery Street

Their address is the principal place of business of 3,500 limited partnerships. Of these, five are mentioned in the Kroll report as being involved in Moldovan fraud - Avenilla Commercial, Intratex Sales, Metalforum, Swedtron Alliance and Trademarket Networks. Hein failed to respond to a request for comment.

Overall the Kroll report identifies 28 Scotland-based companies and 20 based elsewhere in the UK, many with Latvian bank accounts, in connection with its investigation into the Moldovan fraud. The underlying network of opaque corporate entities, sometimes known as shell companies, is believed to be vastly larger, numbering at least 11,000 companies in Scotland alone. And the Scotland based company formation specialists identified by the Sunday Herald are churning out an additional 300 limited partnerships per month.

Other Scottish addresses where entities in this wider network are registered, include 16/5 West Pilton Rise, Edinburgh. It is the base of 424 companies and limited partnerships associated with Anzelika Young, a former director of company agent Arran Business Services. None of these companies have been accused of connection to Moldovan fraud. Mrs Young was unavailable for comment.

There is no suggestion that any of these company service providers knew that they were creating or serving companies or partnerships that were being used in offshore fraud, or were especially useful for such purposes. And Kroll's allegations are at this stage no more than claims - they have not yet been tested in a court of law. Where it could, the Sunday Herald asked the formation companies to contact on its behalf the entities named by Kroll, but those who responded refused to discuss any matters relating to their clients.

Critics suggest the government should take action to clean up the sector and prevent shell companies and limited partnerships from being used as conduits for the proceeds of crime and money laundering with tougher rules and greater levels of mandatory disclosure. A Scottish government spokesman said the law on limited partnerships is a reserved matter. The coalition government did tighten up disclosure requirements relating to UK company ownership in its Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act 2015, however it failed to force greater transparency on limited partnerships.

An NCA spokesman said: "The NCA remains willing to consider any formal request for assistance from the Moldovan authorities in connection with their investigation, however our initial enquiries have revealed that only a tiny proportion of the funds entered the UK financial system and therefore the jurisdiction of the UK authorities. We continue to work closely with Companies House on the introduction of a publicly accessible central registry of company beneficial ownership information. Greater transparency of company ownership and control will make it more difficult to conceal involvement and act as a deterrent to crime.


The alleged theft of $1 billion, equivalent to one-eighth of Moldova's gross domestic product, from three Moldovan banks last November did not just bankrupt the banks concerned. It also nearly bankrupted the former Soviet republic's economy, and sparked unrest, with 20,000 people taking to the streets of the Moldovan capital, Chisinau, to protest against corruption.

"A big majority of Moldovans are very, very angry with this case," said Alina Radu, director of the Chisinau-based newspaper Ziarul de Garda. They are angry with the government for failing to prevent such crimes, she said, adding "but they're also angry with Ilan Shor [a Moldovan businessman who was allegedly the lynchpin of the fraud] and his family as well."

The National Bank of Moldova, the republic's central bank, is answerable to Moldova's parliament. In response to Moldovans' clamour for justice, the parliament's speaker, Andrian Candu, published an interim report into the fraud commissioned by NMB from corporate investigators Kroll on his website. Candu said the government had "a responsibility to be transparent with our citizens."

Kroll singled out 28-year-old Ilan Shor as the key perpetrator of the $1bn fraud. He was charged with corruption two days later and has since been under house arrest. He denies wrongdoing. In a statement he described the allegations against him as "groundless" and said he will "support the authorities in finding out the truth" about the banks' losses.

Shor also owns a football club, TV stations, the country's main international airport, Chisinau International Airport, and has a Russian pop-star wife called Jasmine. He made his fortune selling duty-free goods at the airport.

The Herald:

Ilan Shor

The Kroll report alleges Shor used a labyrinth of offshore firms to extract $1 billion from three Moldovan banks - Banca de Economii (where Shor is the chairman), Unibank, and Banca Sociala. The offshore firms, including the Scotland-based ones, are alleged to have gained control of the banks using subversive means and then, in a flurry of deals on 25 and 26 November last year, improperly borrowed $767 million without providing any collateral. Total losses are expected to reach $1 billion. It is claimed that records of many transactions were afterwards deleted from the banks' computers, with documents detailing the loans issued by Banca de Economii loaded into a van that was reportedly stolen and destroyed in a fire a few hours later.

According to the Kroll report, Pilton-registered Fortuna United LP became involved in mid November when the loan portfolio of Banca de Economii was abruptly moved, through a series of opaque transactions, to Banca Sociala. Banca Sociala then claimed to have held a shareholders' meeting in a remote Ukrainian town on 26 November and decided to transfer the collection rights on the loans to Fortuna United. Dorin Dragutanu, the governor of Moldova's central bank, said the shareholders' meeting in Ukraine and the deal with Fortuna were "completely fake," noting that Fortuna United had supposedly agreed to pay full price for the loan portfolio, but not until 2019.

The funds were afterwards filtered through a "complex web of transactions," said the Kroll report, with much of the money ending up in Latvian bank accounts held by "apparently unconnected" England and Scotland-based limited partnerships.

Kroll's report said a full forensic investigation was needed to identify other potential beneficiaries and recover the funds, and the Moldovan government has promised to embark on a second probe along these lines.