‘The Netherlands should not be complacent about Russian financial influence’



Russian companies’ assets in the Netherlands went up from €13.2bn in 2007 to around €96bn in 2017, partly through the use of letterbox companies for tax optimisation purposes, according to research by America’s Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The claim is made in The Kremlin Playbook 2, which looks at the Netherlands, Italy and Austria as ‘enablers of Russian malign influence’ and was published earlier this year.

Co author Heather Conley, who was at a conference at the Dutch Clingendael research institute last week, told the Financieele Dagblad they had uncovered no concrete evidence of political blackmail in the Netherlands.

But that is no reason to be complacent, she said, pointing out that the Dutch financial services sector is heavily dependent on Russian money.

The bottom line, she said, should not be about actual figures but about the vulnerability of open western economies, with their flexible tax regimes and easy approach to setting up new companies without clear knowledge of the owner.

‘Russian assets thus represented roughly 13% of Dutch nominal GDP in 2017, despite the fact that only around 20,000 people work for Russian-owned companies in the Netherlands,’ the researchers said in a press release accompanying the publication of a book on Russian money in Europe earlier this year.

By aiding and abetting Russia, ‘enablers assist the Kremlin in self-destructive behavior that siphons funds offshore (often in or through Europe) and depletes the Russian tax base at a time of dire economic conditions’, the researchers say.

In addition, by allowing Russian economic influence to cycle through their systems, ‘enablers actively participate in the weakening and discrediting of their own democratic structures’.

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