Cyprus has cracked down on those named by the United States and Britain for allegedly helping Russian oligarchs bypass sanctions on Moscow because of the Ukraine war, an official said Saturday.
Financial Commissioner Pavlos Ioannou told state broadcaster CyBC that the assets of the individuals and entities concerned have been frozen.
"It was unavoidable for the banks to take the action they did... and the government also acted prudently," Ioannou said.
Cyprus Greek-language daily Phileleftheros said the island's largest lender, Bank of Cyprus, had also "informed 4,000 customers who have a Russian passport and are non-residents of EU countries that their accounts will be closed".
The east Mediterranean island is home to a large Russian diaspora. Limassol on the south coast -- often nicknamed "Moscow on the Med" -- has long been a magnet for Russian speakers.
Britain and the US have sanctioned Cyprus nationals and companies for allegedly helping Russian oligarchs hide their assets in the wake of the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.
Government spokesman Constantinos Letymbiotis said this week Nicosia was committed to prosecuting any Cypriots accused by the US and Britain of enabling oligarchs to bypass sanctions imposed because of the war.
He said President Nikos Christodoulides has contacted both the US and Britain seeking evidence against those named so they could be investigated at home.
Cyprus Central Bank Governor Constantinos Herodotou told the president this week Cypriot banks have frozen the accounts of 13 individuals named and a number of Cyprus-based companies.
He said that in recent years the authorities have closed 43,000 shell companies and 123,000 "suspicious" bank accounts.
Only 2.2 per cent of all bank deposits on the island currently belong to Russians, the governor said.
Cyprus Bar Association chief Christos Clerides told CyBC the approach by the US and Britain was "excessive" and not one adopted by Brussels.
After a crisis meeting this week, the government spokesman said Christodoulides had reconfirmed that "our country's credibility must be preserved -- no deviation from European Union sanctions will be tolerated".
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