Press release 07th Jul 2022

British companies key to suspected $820 million Russian money laundering operation

Investigation highlights urgent need for Companies House reform and crackdown on rogue formation agents


July 7, 2022 - British companies were at the centre of a suspected money laundering operation that moved $820 million in questionable funds out of Russia, a new investigation by Transparency International reveals.

The ‘Bottle Laundromat’ involved a global network of shell companies, including firms in the UK, Cyprus and the Czech Republic, that sold bottle moulding machines to Russian businesses at massively inflated prices.

Investigators at Transparency International Russia uncovered evidence that strongly suggests these machinery sales were fictional and a cover to disguise dirty money being moved out of their country.

Key to the scheme, which operated from 2014 to 2016, were 13 UK companies that helped move $139 million via suspect transactions. One firm engaged in $61 million worth of trades for the bottle machinery over the course of six days, despite company accounts for that year showing it had less than £500 in the bank.

This network of shell companies, coupled with highly suspect trade activity, bears striking similarities to other ‘Laundromats’ that operated during the same period. These industrial-scale money-laundering operations siphoned tens of billions of dollars out of the Russian Federation and Azerbaijan.

Beneficiaries of these included the godfather of Vladimir Putin's daughter, Sergei Roldugin, wealthy oligarchs and figures connected to the Russian security services.

The findings highlight the urgent need for reforms to Companies House, expected before Parliament later this year, as well as a crackdown on unscrupulous company formation agents and more proactive supervision of the UK’s fast-growing ‘e-money’ sector, which our research has flagged as a money laundering risk.


Duncan Hames, Director of Policy at Transparency International UK, said:

“The Government has been keen to show the UK is willing to stand-up to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, yet this investigation shows more can be done to tackle Britain’s role as a conduit for dirty cash. Proposed reforms to Companies House will help end the abuse of UK firms for economic crime, but more needs to be done to stop the corrupt and other criminals using this country to hide their ill-gotten gains. The Government should press the advantage against kleptocrats who hide their money here by working to end secrecy in Britain’s offshore financial centres, overhauling the private sector’s dirty money defences, and significantly increase funding for law enforcement to go after money launderers.”


Analysis by Transparency International UK reveals all 13 UK firms involved in the scheme bear all the hallmarks of ‘shell companies’ – paper businesses used to hide their real owners and facilitate financial crimes.

Key red flags include these companies:

  • being newly formed just before entering into the trade deals, and often closing shortly after the scheme had run its course
  • listing no financial history or assets in their accounts
  • being controlled by opaque structures using secretive offshore companies and nominees to hide their true beneficiaries

While the ultimate destination of the $820 million remains unclear, the transactions are similar to previous money laundering schemes used to benefit the rich and powerful. Scottish Limited Partnerships and UK Limited Liability Partnerships, with bank accounts in Baltic banks, were a key feature of the Global, Azerbaijani and Troika Laundromats, exposed by the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project.


Notes to editors:

A full write-up of the investigation can be found here

Researchers at Transparency International Russia, UK and Czech Republic all contributed to this investigation.

Additional reporting from Meduza, Novaya Gazeta Europe, The Insider and Eesti Päevaleht.