International corruption investigators have revealed the dramatic scale of the giant bank heist which first exposed Scotland’s key role in the global dirty money industry.

US-based private detective agency Kroll now believes nearly $3 billion - the equivalent of £2.24bn at today’s exchange rates - was laundered from three banks in impoverishedMoldova over just two years.

Much of the 'dirty' cash was funnelled through anonymous Scottish and other UK shell firms.

Their new findings come two and a half years after the investigators first revealed off-the-shelf Scottish limited partnerships (SLPs) had played a key role in laundering the proceeds of the robbery, then valued at $1 billion.

Kroll’s initial report, leaked in June 2015 and revealed by The Herald and the BBC, provided the first concrete evidence that SLPs – once obscure entities whose owners can effectively remain anonymous, pay no taxes and file no accounts – were being abused on an industrial scale by criminals.

The Herald:

Earlier this year, SLPs were branded “Britain’s home-grown secrecy vehicle” by anti-corruption campaign group Transparency International as they were linked to two of the biggest money-laundering schemes ever uncovered, the multi-billion-dollar Russian and Azerbaijani Laundromats.

Kroll’s latest report, dubbed Kroll II, lifts the lid on how the three three banks, Banca de Economii, Banca Socială and Unibank banks were effectively looted over a two year period up to 2014.

The Herald:

The robbery, - one of the biggest ever carried out and described as the “theft of the century,” forced Moldova, Europe’s poorest country, into a banking bailout worth an eighth of its gross domestic product, sparking sparked mass demonstrations. and nearly brought the former Soviet republic to its knees.

The new Kroll report claims 26-year-old tycoon Ilan Shor began an elaborate scheme to syphon funds from the banks by making fraudulent loans to shell companies, mostly UK limited partnerships, with accounts in Latvian banks.

The Herald:

Kroll believes the Israeli first used a network of fake firms and offshore accounts to take control of the banks, buying equity with cash ultimately borrowed from the banks themselves.

The agency has identified what it calls a 'core laundering mechanism' used by Mr Shor to empty the banks. He was sentenced to seven and half years in prison for the fraud.

Kroll said this was used to flush $2.9 billion back and forth through 81 bank accounts at two Latvian banks and said $600m remains unaccounted for.

The report, published by Moldova’s central bank, just ahead of Christmas, said: “The majority of these accounts were held in the names of UK limited partnerships, or companies registered in offshore locations such as Belize, BVI and Panama.

“Most of these companies had recently been incorporated, they had no established business, no public accounts, no business premises, no other bank accounts, no public profile and no identifiable owners.”

Shor continues to deny he masterminded the heist and disputes the latest Kroll findings. He remains at liberty pending an appeal.

Russian-language media in Moldova has suggested Mr Shor would sue Kroll in London.

Ilan Shor before the scandal broke

The Herald:

Mr Shor, who is married to a Russian pop star called Jasmin and owns an airport and football club, said: “In essence, Kroll continues to act under orders from the main beneficiaries of the stolen funds.”

Anti-corruption campaigner Ion Dron told German broadcaster Deutsche Welle: Expectations in Moldova are low that money from the theft will be recovered. “The billion won’t be found because this affair is on a global scale, not a local one.” campaigner Ion Dron told the newspaper Deutsche Welle.

Public confidence in courts and politicians remains low in Moldova. Only1.5 per cent of Moldovans said they trusted Mr Shor, who has his own party, in a poll published this month.

This, however, was higher than two of his rivals.

The Herald has previously reported that some of the shell firms named in the initial Kroll report have also cropped up in other money-laundering scandals.

The Herald:

British ministers this autumn introduced new rules to increase transparency at SLPs. These, a Herald investigation revealed this year, have been widely flouted.

BACKGROUND: The Sunday Herald investigation after the first Kroll report