Sergei Magnitsky, who uncovered thefts from the state budget amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars, was killed in a Moscow pre-trial detention center in 2009. Let us recall that one of the beneficiaries of the scheme uncovered by Magnitsky was a partner in the Quorum Debt Management Group company, Artem Zuev, co-owner of the Universal Savings Bank, through which the bulk of the stolen goods passed. Recently, Zuev filed a lawsuit against the Moscow editorial office of Novaya Gazeta, demanding to refute the theses of the article “The money was poorly washed,” in particular, the allegation about the confiscation of Zuev’s Latvian apartment, acquired by criminal means. However, we have now received additional evidence that Zuev's Latvian property was confiscated on grounds related to criminal activity.
Surprisingly, it was Zuev himself who appealed to the Constitutional Court of Latvia, thanks to which information about the confiscation became public. The reason for the appeal was that, according to Latvian legislation, the decision on confiscation made by the Riga District Court (second instance) is final and cannot be challenged in a higher court. This, according to Mr. Zuev, violates his constitutional right to a fair trial.
The Constitutional Court of Latvia recognized the complaint of Artem Zuev as admissible. However, in his decision on the admissibility of the complaint, he stated that the applicant's property was recognized as the proceeds of crime and was confiscated in favor of the state.
The importance of this decision cannot be overestimated. We have before us a clear, officially published judicial act, in which it is written in black and white that the property existed, that it was acquired with ill-gotten gains, and that it was confiscated. And all this is thanks to the legal activity of Zuev himself, who categorically disputes these circumstances in Russia.
Currently, the Constitutional Court of Latvia, by decision of January 31, 2023, suspended the proceedings in the case and turned to the Court of Justice of the European Union for advice. In particular, the Constitutional Court requests the opinion of the European Court on whether the fact that the decision to confiscate criminally acquired property taken in the second instance cannot be challenged is consistent with the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.
Section 3.1 of this decision of the Constitutional Court of Latvia dated January 31, 2023, in particular, states that a criminal case has been opened against Zuev under Part 3 of Art. 195 of the Criminal Code of Latvia in connection with possible money laundering on a large scale. As part of this criminal case, real estate belonging to Zuev, says the Constitutional Court, was confiscated. By decision of the Economic Court on June 28, 2021, the property was recognized as not acquired by crime. However, after a protest from the prosecutor, the criminal board of the Riga District Court on July 22, 2021 recognized the property as criminally acquired and ordered its confiscation.
The attitude of the Latvian authorities towards international financial crime has, in principle, changed greatly in recent years. For many years, Latvia has been a safe haven for money laundering. In 2018, the relevant expert committee of the Council of Europe gave a critical assessment of the ability of the Latvian authorities to combat money laundering. Latvia was placed under special control under the threat of being included in the so-called “gray list”. Now, dozens of criminal cases have been initiated: for example, the case of ABLV Bank, one of the main “laundries” in Latvia, is in court for an amount of more than two billion dollars.