THE nephew of Russia’s deputy defence minister has been jailed for faking metal exports to Scotland in a billion-rouble tax scam.

Alexei Anokhin was late last month sentenced to four and a half years for his part in a complex VAT fraud using British shell companies.

The 34-year-old was described by Russian law enforcement as the leader of an organised crime group which arranged sham exports and then claimed back value-added tax on the products.

Analysis: Why Northern Ireland must not be forgotten in shell firm reforms

St Petersburg’s Fontanka newspaper said Anokhin’s aunt was Deputy Defence Minister Tatiana Shevtsova, an advisor to President Vladimir Putin and one of the most high profile women in Russia’s military. There is no suggestion Ms Shevtsova, whose rank is equivalent to a general, had any knowledge of the scam.

HeraldScotland:

Deputy Defence Minister Tatiana Shevtsova

However, his connections have underlined concerns about the use of British - and especially Scottish - ghost firms among Russia’s criminal, business and political elite.

Anokhin, Fontanka reported, was director of a Russian company which claimed to export non-ferrous metals to shell firms in the UK, an English limited company and a Scottish limited partnership or SLP.

Analysis: Why Northern Ireland must not be forgotten in shell firm reforms

The UK Government has signalled that it will reform SLPs - whose owners can effectively remain anonymous while filing no accounts or paying no tax - after their industrial-scale abuse in the former Soviet Union was exposed by this newspaper.

The Anokhin case comes after The Herald last year revealed that an SLP based at a prestigious Edinburgh firm of accountants, Saffery Champness, had been used in a similar scam valued at £40m.

Fontanka said Anokhin controlled an SLP called Jamestone Services, which was dissolved in September having never named an owner or filed any accounts. He is understood to have used his Russian firm to fake an export of £2m worth of metal products to Jamestone.

The SLP is based at a house in Park Road, Rosyth, Fife which has featured in numerous scandals involving Scottish shell firms, including the a corruption case involving the nephew of the president of Uzbekistan.

HeraldScotland:

Rosyth base of Jamestone Services LP

The Rosyth base of Jamestone is home to Latvian born Anzelika Young, 37. She is also a director of a Sussex-registered limited company called Hillgold Properties.

Fontanka, citing law enforcement sources, said Anokhin had a fictitious deal to export some $10m worth of copper powder to Hillgold Properties. No such deliveries, the paper said, were carried out.

Ms Young - whose maiden name is Trifonova - was sentenced to 250 hours community service for mortgage fraud in February 2012 at Kirkcaldy Sherriff Court. The Herald was unable to reach her for comment before publication.

Analysis: Why Northern Ireland must not be forgotten in shell firm reforms

Hillgold Properties was initially registered in 2010 with a director called Barbara Kahan, an English octogenarian who has created more than 20,000 business during her life. Ms Y oung took over as director a month after Hillgold was incorporated. The business, despite being linked with multi-million-pound purchases of copper, was wound up in 2016 having never filed full accounts.

Anokhin’s wife Olga was also jailed for four years at Kuibyshevsky District Court in St Petersburg on March 23. The couple had been given special permission to marry while under investigation.

Analysis: Why Northern Ireland must not be forgotten in shell firm reforms

It's easy to find the HQ of one the biggest importers of diesel in to Ukraine. Wexler Group LP is based behind a navy blue door and up a pine-lined green staircase. Its office is bright and airy, a chalkboard reminding visitors that the cleaners come on Wednesday evenings.

All normal enough. Except this is not Kiev or Odessa. This is Newry: the base for a firm which ships 70,000 tonnes of fuel in to Ukraine every month is a mail-drop in Northern Ireland.

This little fact is worth noting. Let me explain why. The UK Government last month once again signalled that it is going to take action against Scottish limited partnerships, or SLPs. the once rare corporate entities dubbed "Britain's home-grown secrecy vehicles" by anti-corruption campaigners Transparency International.

It has reason. SLPs are notoriously easy to abuse and have boomed thanks to their popularity as a means of veiling ownership for everyone from Russian VAT fraudsters - as we report today -  to corrupt Latin American presidents.

However, SLPs are not the only British corporate structure that can be turned in to a getaway car for criminals or simply an identity shield for the rich and powerful.

Northern Irish LPs can be just as handy, even if they lack the legal personality, the power to own assets, that SLPs enjoy.

International Overseas Services, a company formation agency, is currently selling them off-the-shelf for 1450 euros. In Russian it calls them "tax-free companies" and says that ownership details are "confidential".

For example, the former prime minister of Ukraine, Yulia Tymoshenko, was last year revealed by US official documents to have used a Belfast partnership called Aveiro to pay for lobbying in America. 

HeraldScotland:

Yulia Tymoshenko

So as Theresa May sets her sights on SLPs she might want to look across the North Channel too.

Analysis: Why Northern Ireland must not be forgotten in shell firm reforms

But what of Wexler Global? Well, Ukrainian journalists have speculated it belongs to a chum of Russian President Vladimir Putin. This has been denied. But there is no way to be sure: the LP is under no obligation to even go through the motions of naming a beneficial owner.  This is a big deal: Ukraine's energy market is one of the great geopolitical and commercial battle grounds of the planet.