Wargaming: From Tanks to Banks, The Untold Financial Story (Part I of IV)
Part I: Why The Hell Is Wargaming’s Headquarters In Cyprus?
First things first. Why the hell did Wargaming (WG) choose Cyprus as it’s headquarters? It’s a frigging island in the middle of nowhere. Look at the image above. If you showed that to 100 people, 99 of them would say it looks like a kindergarten drawing of the United States of America.
Forget about locating it on a map. Many Americans couldn’t find America on a map, never mind some shithole island in the middle of nowhere. To answer the question of why WG picked Cyprus, you need to understand that WG has it’s roots in Russia.
In Russia, the business environment, as it turns out, is not all that great. It ranks high on the list for strict business regulation, investment risk and corruption. The Russian market has not rebounded like it has in most of the rest of the world from the worldwide financial crisis. There are also higher corporate tax considerations to contend with. It is all of these factors and the ability to reach more markets that led WG to chose Cyprus as it’s headquarters.
Here’s some bad news…
They were recently involved in a debt crisis which saw bailouts from the EU in 2012 to 2013, and were on the verge of financial collapse until Cyprus agreed to a one-time bank levy on all deposits which shaved 9.9% off accounts with more than 100,000 Euros and 6.75% for accounts under 100,000 Euros.
So why is Cyprus such a good choice you might ask?
This doesn’t seem like a good place to do business when they take the money right out of your bank account when things go south until you realize the small island nation wants to rebuild it’s financial image and will try to make the island more favorable to business investment with less regulation, less scrutiny, access to more markets, and lower corporate taxation. The corporate tax rate in Cyprus is just 12.5%, and includes exemptions from tax on the sale of securities, dividends, and profits of a permanent establishment abroad. Those are pretty nice perks if you wanted to open a bank if I do say so myself. For shits and giggles, there is also a 17,086 Euro or 1% of gross income tax exemption (whichever is lower) for entertainment purposes. I like my vodka chilled.
If you want to become a citizen, the personal income tax rate is reasonable and includes no tax on interest or dividends. There is also a flat 20% tax on rental income. This might come in handy if you need to convert thousands of Russians into Cypriots (citizens of Cyprus). I will discuss this in Part II in more detail.
Speaking of being a citizen, Cyprus makes it relatively easy to become a Cypriot. All you have to do is invest 2 million Euros and own a residence in Cyprus (which should be a minimum of 500,000 Euros), that can be part of the 2 million Euro citizen cost. The citizenship purchase is an important detail and will be discussed in Part II in more detail as well. Not many countries offer a price for their citizenship, but fear not, if you like islands and have 2 million Euros, Cyprus might float your boat.
Russians were a big part of the economic boom in Cyprus, with “about $31 bn of Russian money in Cypriot bank accounts – $12 bn from banks and $19 bn from businesses and individuals. It is estimated that about one half to a third of all Cyprus bank deposits are of Russian origin. The suspicion – particularly in Germany – is that a lot of the money is from ill-gotten gains.”
Russians really like the idea of being out of the prying eyes of the Russian government. Anyone with a reason to hide money will have a much easier time doing so if they were out of Russia and preferably in a place like Cyprus, with its favorable business regulations and access to more markets. Cyprus seems like an island oasis for anyone with “dirty” money. It also seems like a good business idea for anyone period. I am currently trying to come up with the 2m Euros to become a citizen or better yet, maybe I’ll just make a boat out of empty bottles and sail there on a windy day.
There have been rumors of money laundering plaguing Cyprus in recent years from all of the money coming in from Russia.
MEPs have urged Cypriot president Nicos Anastasiades to “correct” the mishandling of a Russia corruption case. The 17 deputies voiced “grave concern” in a letter to Nicosia on Friday (26 October) that Cyprus was “actively assisting” Russia in “politically-motivated proceedings” against Bill Browder, a British human rights campaigner. They also called on Cyprus to hold an investigation into alleged Russian money laundering via Cypriot banks. They said Cyprus was “neglecting its duties under the European directives to combat money laundering”.
Obviously, there is a conflict of interest at work here. The president wants new business investment and wants the country to progress economically and really couldn’t give a shit less about the standards of the rest of the world that will only hurt his tiny island nation if he adheres to them. The only thing hanging over Cyprus’ head is there may not be another bailout if the country tanks again (pun intended). He has to put on a good act though so he can save face if the time comes when he has to kneel down and kiss the pinky ring again.
So, hopefully we have a good idea of why WG is in Cyprus now. While it is not a complete story, partially because I’m bored out of my mind and would rather be sitting on a beach in Cyprus right now instead of taking about it, and partially because you probably don’t want to hear about this shit either. We want the dirt!
In Part II, I will discuss something more interesting, the Hell that is WG’s purchase of a large stake in the Hellenic Bank of Cyprus. Why would WG buy a bank? Hmm. We will try to peel the onion and get to the bottom of it. It won’t be pretty, and many tears will be shed in the process.
Disclaimer: My name is John Smith but you can call me Bubba. Everything I have said and will say in this series is only my opinion and is for entertainment purposes only. My current location is on a small boat docked next to a small island (not Cyprus) in a yet undiscovered island chain which lies in a large body of water.