Thefts from other countries pale in relation to the looting of Russia, with the indispensable assistance of the “Offshornaya Zona.” The 1995 “loans for shares” scheme transferred state ownership of privatized industries worth billions of dollars to companies whose offshore registrations hid true owners. More billions were stolen around the time of the August 1998 crash.

Insider banks knew about the coming devaluation and shipped billions in assets as “loans” to offshore companies. The banks’ statements show that their loan portfolios grew after the date when they got loans from the Russian Central Bank, which were supposed to stave off default. After the crash, it was revealed that the top borrowers in all the big bankrupt banks were offshore. For example, the five largest creditors of Rossiisky Credit were shell companies registered in Nauru and in the Caribbean. As the debtors’ ownerships were secret, they could easily “disappear.” Stuck with “uncollectable” loans and “no assets,” the banks announced their own bankruptcies. Swiss officials are investigating leads that some of the $4.8 billion International Monetary Fund tranche to Russia was moved by banks to accounts offshore before the 1998 crash.

The biggest current scam is being effected by a secretly owned Russian company called Itera, which is using offshore shells in Curaçao and elsewhere to gobble up the assets of Gazprom, the national gas company, which is 38 percent owned by the government. Itera’s owners are widely believed to be Gazprom managers, their relatives and Viktor Chernomyrdin, former chairman of Gazprom’s board of directors and prime minister during much of the privatization. Gazprom, which projected nearly $16 billion in revenues for 2000, uses Itera as its marketing agent and has been selling it gas fields at cut-rate prices. Its 1999 annual report did not account for sales of 13 percent of production. As its taxes supply a quarter of government revenues, this is a devastating loss. Itera has a Florida office, which has been used to register other Florida companies, making it a vehicle for investment in the US economy.