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Probe into Scottish business model linked to $1bn fraud

The UK Government has launched a review of Scottish Limited Partnerships after scandal in Moldova.

Fraud: SLPs came to prominence after 2014 Moldovan banking scandal.
Fraud: SLPs came to prominence after 2014 Moldovan banking scandal. John Nichol

The UK Government has launched a review of a Scottish business model linked to a $1bn (£829m) fraud.

Scottish Limited Partnerships (SLPs) have their own "legal personalities" allowing them to hold assets, borrow money from banks and enter into contracts.

The use of SLPs for alleged criminal activity came to prominence in 2014 after a banking scandal in the ex-Soviet republic of Moldova.

Around $1bn was transferred from three Moldovan banks to shell Scottish companies under pretence of loans for business ventures. The money was then transferred back to bank accounts in eastern Europe.

The country's former Prime Minister Vlad Filat was sentenced to nine years in jail in 2016 for taking bribes from the alleged mastermind of the fraud, Ilan Shor.

Mr Shor denies the allegations.

Between the financial years 2011/12 and 2015/16, the number of SLPs increased by 237%. This compares with an increase in limited partnerships (LPs) in the rest of the UK of just 42%.

As part of the review, the UK Government is calling on businesses to give evidence about the usefulness of SLPs to "better understand" the increase in their numbers.

Secretary of state for Scotland David Mundell said: "It is right the UK Government launches this call for evidence into the use of Scottish Limited Partnerships for possible criminal activity.

"Work by campaign groups and a series of media reports have highlighted growing concerns which require to be taken very seriously.

"I would urge businesses and organisations in Scotland to share their views. It is important we are able to gather as much information as we can."

UK Government business minister Margot James said: "I am concerned about recent reports relating to the use of LPs, suggesting that some are being used for criminal activity.

"This undermines the many legitimate uses this form of incorporation can give.

"The UK Government is fully committed to stamping out criminal activity so I have launched this call for evidence and would encourage businesses and other interested parties to respond with their views on whether the rules and scrutiny around LPs need to be tightened up to prevent them being exploited."

SNP MP Roger Mullin said: "This is a welcome u-turn from the UK government who have finally caved into months of pressure from the SNP to carry out a review into the links between SLPs and criminal activity. 

"Having previously rejected and voted against our calls for an investigation, this change of heart from the UK government is a step in the right direction, and a victory for the SNP and all those who have campaigned on this issue.

"We know that the links between SLPs and criminality pose a threat to combatting organised crime. Understanding the scope, scale and extent of the criminal links with SLPs is the only way in which we can move forward to a practical and effective solution."

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