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Cyprus Denies Claim It's Russian Dirty Money Haven

MENELAOS HADJICOSTIS

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) â¿¿ Cyprus' government on Monday dismissed a German media report that claims a financial bailout for the island nation would primarily benefit Russians who have stashed billions in ill-gotten gains in its banks.

Government spokesman Stefanos Stefanou rejected the article by German news magazine Der Spiegel, which cited the conclusions of a classified German intelligence service paper, as an attempt to sully the country's reputation as an international investment center.

Stefanou said Cyprus has enacted effective anti-money laundering laws that adhere to European Union law and which have earned plaudits from, among others, the International Monetary Fund.

The Spiegel article said that Germany's foreign intelligence agency (BND) estimates Russian deposits in Cypriot banks amount to over ⿬20 billion ($25.55 billion), more than Cyprus' ⿬18 billion in national GDP. The BND also accused Cyprus of facilitating money laundering by making it easy for Russians to obtain citizenship.

Stefanou said Russians prefer to deposit money in Cyprus mainly because of advantages offered by its banking system. For example, Cyprus has a treaty with Russia that avoids double taxation on investments and its corporate tax rate is 10 percent, one of the lowest in the EU.

Asked to comment on the Spiegel article, German Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert said that the government on principle never discusses intelligence matters.

Cyprus is still negotiating its potential bailout with the so-called troika â¿¿ the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF.

"The discussion is currently moving forward with moderate speed," German Finance Ministry spokesman Martin Kotthaus said. He insisted that having a Cypriot bailout agreement before the end of the year "will be difficult."

Stefanou said Cyprus is now waiting for word on when the troika officials will visit the country for a final round of bailout negotiations.

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