A loophole has embarrassed Britain’s tough talk on Putin as goods from Russia continue to flow into the country. International sanctions were supposed to cripple Russia economically, but the embargo seems to work only on paper as goods continue to flow into European countries, including the UK.
An investigation by Czech Seznam Zpravy’s reporter Janek Kroupa found that Russian goods are being brought to Turkey where made in Russia labels are removed before the goods are then brought to Bulgaria, an EU member state, to then enter the bloc and other European countries.
Mr Kroupa infiltrated one of the smuggling organisations in disguise and secretly recorded its boss.
According to the reports, “the monitored smuggling route is managed by the Russian Ernest Rochal. In addition to Russian citizenship, he also has an Israeli passport, which allows him to freely travel around the world and offer Russian products. It exports embargoed commodities such as wood, iron and chemical fertilisers from Putin’s Russia. As he himself admitted in an interview – secretly monitored – the smuggling trail also leads in the opposite direction. According to his words, he brought bulletproof vests and helmets to Russia.”
“I built the infrastructure for three months. We transport the goods by truck through Georgia to Turkey, or by ship from Novorossiysk to Istanbul,” Rochal was recorded saying.
He added: “We will change the country of origin in Turkey. All Russian stamps will disappear, we will whitewash the company name. We will then transport the goods from Turkey to Bulgaria, to another company of mine. You then buy from there. So, on paper, not from Russia, not from Turkey, but from Bulgaria. My man will do the full customs clearance.”
The investigation sparked concerns over the ineffectiveness of Western sanctions, and in particular, over Britain’s failure to sanction certain imports from Belarus, Russia’s closest ally.
Speaking to Express.co.uk., lead Russia research fellow at the Henry Jackson Society, Dr Stepan Stepanenko said: “The named smuggler, Ernest Roshal, is the son of a famous Russian pediatrician, Leonid Roshal, who, despite it not being his field, was vocal during the Navalny poisoning and pushed the pro-Kremlin propaganda line, as well as criticising Navalny’s wife. It seems their family has made a move deeper into the Kremlin’s lists of trusted stooges.
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“The loopholes identified by the Czech investigation are further evidence of the Russian systematic attempts to undermine whatever sanctions the West places on them and the limitations already in place are evidently insufficient. Tighter checks on imports from Russia neighbouring states, as well as tighter sanctions on all exports from Russia are needed.
“Whatsmore, while the Roshal operations, talking of 20 trucks, is relatively small scale, the Russian state is making full use of the delays and limitations in EU sanctions to turn a profit. Already in August it was reported that Russia is making 38 percent more than last year on their oil and gas sales. Now we are expecting a surge in Russian and Belarus processed diesel, before February sanctions come into effect.
“Considering that it is now month 11 of the new stage of war in Ukraine, it is time to reassess the ever increasing, staggered sanctions on Russia and move to a blanket ban.
“For Britain, the Czech investigation highlights yet a deeper embarrassment, as some of the deals mentioned by the Russian smuggler would not even need to be made for imports to the UK. Roshal mentioned wood smuggling to Poland, as the EU has sanctioned wood imports from both Russia and Belarus.
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“In contrast, the UK is yet to sanction wood imports from Belarus to the same level as that from Russia. Considering the economic union of the two states, there is nothing stopping Russian wood exporters rebranding in Belarus, just as Roshal’s smugglers do with goods in Turkey.
“This means the UK consumer has no real way of being certain his wood products, which came via Belarus, did not originate in Russia, sponsoring the killings in Ukraine.”
To make it more difficult to trace the illicit trades, Rochal said he sends the money through his companies in Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan.
“My company in Kyrgyzstan will buy or sell for rubles in Russia. On the same day, I can send the money to Europe via a SEPA transaction,” he revealed.