A SANCTIONED Moscow cryptocurrency mogul ran a secretive Scottish shell firm, The Herald on Sunday can reveal.

Timur Bukanov was last week officially named by the United States Treasury Department as it cracked down on Russian fintech operators.

US officials formally sanctioned Bukanov, another man and a series of companies they said were helping the Putin regime and its associates to evade trade restrictions.

Bukanov, the Americans said, led a Moscow-based virtual currency exchange which processed payments for major sanctioned Russian financial institutions.

He was also, British corporate filings show, the official controller of a now-dissolved Scottish limited partnership (SLP) called Intelligence World.

The firm was set up in 2016 and traded until at least 2020. Like most other SLPs, it has never published any accounts. 

It has also left no trace beyond its official documents on the world wide web. There is no way of knowing what purpose the partnership served.

Anti-corruption campaigner Transparency International previously dubbed SLPs as “Britain’s homegrown secrecy vehicles”. 

Such partnerships - which can also be used legally as tax-efficient structures for equity investments - have already featured in US sanctions.

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Earlier this year, The Herald revealed that three SLPs - called Kraverton, Saling Development and Welmart Group - had been sanctioned by the Americans.

The businesses are officially controlled by a Swiss citizen called Anselm Oskar Schmucki. 

The US, UK and Ukraine all believe the Emirates-based financier, who is also subject to personal sanctions, supports the Putin war machine.

Earlier, the US imposed sanctions on an SLP called Djeco Group which it said was involved in supporting the Russian security and defence apparatus.

Ukraine has also sanctioned an SLP called Marine Leisure. 

Bukanov’s SLP no longer exists and has not been sanctioned. 

The Moscow businessman was named as the official person of significant control of Intelligence World in 2017. 

This came after UK Government reforms forcing SLPs to name their controllers. 

Bukanov’s age, name and address are the same in British filings for his SLP as they are for his Russian businesses.

The Herald: The Kremlin

He continues to give his address as a flat in a 12-storey 1980s apartment block on the fringes of Moscow.  

Bukanov’s main Russian business is officially called, in translation, the Centre for the Processing of Electronic Payments.  

The business, which is also sanctioned, trades as Netexchange or Netex24.

The US Treasury, in a press statement last week, said the business was “a Moscow-based fintech company that operates a virtual currency exchange which has enabled digital payments in rubles and virtual currencies to OFAC-designated entities such as Sberbank, Alfa-Bank, and Hydra Market”.

The Americans also sanctioned an Estonian firm linked to Bukanov.

In total, America imposed new sanctions on two individuals and nine firms it said “either helped build or operate blockchain-based services or enabled virtual currency payments in the Russian financial sector, thus enabling potential sanctions evasion”.

Intelligence World was registered in 2016 with the help of a now defunct London company formations agency usually called LAS International. 

The Herald that year named the agency, which had six different names in its 18-year history,  as one of the biggest creators of Scottish shell firms. 

Bellingcat, the open-source investigations website, later described LAS as the “single most prolific presenter of SLPs between 2015 and 2017”.

After SLPs were ordered to name their owners LAS started actively marketing English limited partnerships (ELPs). 

The Herald: A view of Kremlin’ Grand Kremlin Palace, centre, Towers, Churches and frozen Moskva (Moscow) river (Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP)

The English firms - which unlike SLPs cannot own property or open bank accounts - were not subject to the increased transparency rules.

In 2018, The Herald revealed a huge boom in registrations in ELPs after the crackdown on SLPs.

Later it emerged - thanks to documents made public in the giant Pandora Papers leak - that LAS had claimed that the English firms were "a way out and as a substitute for Scottish Partnerships".

In 2022, the BBC revealed that Vladimir Putin’s judo partners - billionaire brothers Arkady and Boris Rotenberg - had used ELPs created by LAS International to bypass sanctions.

The BBC challenged the owner of LAS, an anglo-Russian businesswoman called Elena Dovzhik, about firms she has represented which later turned out to be used for criminal ends.

She said: “We are aware that many years ago we filed registration documents for some companies that eventually were accused in unlawful activities, but such information was not available to us prior (to) registration."

"We (have) never been involved in any business activities of our former clients and only assisted our corporate clients with their company's formation process, mail-forwarding services, (and) statutory filings.

"We never supported any kind of fraud or illegal activities."

LAS was dissolved in the summer of 2022. Intelligence World was registered first at one and then at a second mail-drop address in Edinburgh.

Scottish and UK shell firms, most notably SLPs, have featured in some of the world’s biggest financial crimes of the modern era.

More than 100 SLPs were at the heard of the giant Russian Laundromat, a scheme used to funnel tens of billions of dirty dollars to the West. 

And the same kind of Scottish firms were also used to clean billions out of Azerbaijan and Ukraine, to help pay bribes to Latin American politicians, and to front websites offering everything from diet pills to online gambling and child abuse images.

Earlier this month, The Herald revealed that two men detained in Italy on suspicion of running a €2 billion money-laundering operation for the mafia had run an SLP and a Scottish limited company.

Michele Scognamiglio - dubbed the “wizard of recycling” by the Naples press - and Marco Spinola were arrested at the end of last month as part of a major ongoing international investigation.

The pair are the lead suspects in an alleged transnational scheme to clean dirty money, including for people connected to the Cosa Nostra, Camorra and 'Ndrangheta crime gangs.

The UK Government tightened controls over SLPs in the recently-passed Economic Crime Act. 

However, it has rejected proposals to improve the transparency of English and Northern Irish LPs.