Alexey Kirienko, one of the names published in a list of over 2,000 people who became Maltese citizens in 2016, matches that of the CEO of a Malta-based broker – Exante – that was at the centre of fraud allegations in a case by the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in 2015.
The case was described as involving “one of the largest financial cybercrime networks of all times”. Dozens of traders from around the world, who seemed to be linked to a hub in Ukraine, illegally traded on insider information stolen by hackers from newswires, according to the charges. The allegations had also led to the temporary freezing of all the company’s accounts in Malta.
The government published a list of 2,182 people who became naturalised Maltese citizens in 2016 – Alexey Kirienko appears on that list. There is no way of distinguishing citizenship buyers from those who earned citizenship outside of the cash-for-passports scheme. When The Times of Malta asked for a breakdown of the passport buyers names, the request was rejected.
Journalists are now trying to identify potential passport buyers. Alexey Kirienko is one of the names listed; a name that featured in news stories in Malta and abroad over the last two years.
In August 2015, the US SEC filed fraud charges against over 30 people for allegedly taking part in a scheme to profit from stolen insider information about corporate earnings announcements. The international cybercrime ring, composed of two Ukrainians hackers and dozens of traders around the world, allegedly broke into newswire services to obtain the information, generating more than $100 million in illegal profits.
Exante had charges against it from the Maltese regulator (MFSA), which were dismissed in October 2015, only two months after news of the allegations by the SEC involving Exante emerged.
Attorney General Peter Grech and local government bodies dropped criminal and civil allegations against Malta-based prime broker Exante and its directors while the parallel investigation from the SEC at the time was escalating with 32 defendants charged.
The SEC dismissed its claims against Exante four months later, in February 2016, but nine of its brokerage customers were charged for alleged illegal trading through a brokerage account held in Exante’s name.
Exante had said in a statement that a lack of understanding on its business model was the main reason for the allegations.
While Exante was exonerated, company insiders were still embroiled in the charges. Among the groups named as profiting in the insider trading scheme in the initial charges was Global Hedge Capital Fund. The SEC complaint, filed February 17 2016, alleged that the hackers transmitted the stolen data to multiple groups of traders in Russia, the Ukraine, Malta, Cyprus, France, and three US States, and named nearly a dozen individuals and companies that had reaped over $19.5 million in illicit profits from the same stolen data, according to the international online trading knowledge hub Finance Magnets.
According to the SEC, Exante and Global Hedge share common directors and employees, with Exante’s CEO and founder Alexey Kirienko established Global Hedge in 2007, according to the international online trading hub.
Last July, Exante’s CEO, Alexey Kirienko, and its co-founder, Anatoliy Knyazev, were guests of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, “to discuss the rise in cryptocurrencies and to discuss the launch of Exante’s cryptocurrency trading”, according to the company’s web site. This followed the Prime Minister’s announcement in May that Cabinet had approved a national strategy to make Malta “the Bitcoin continent of Europe”. Many had questioned the Prime Minister’s sudden interest in Bitcoin, a type of digital currency operating independently of a Central Bank.
Exante describe themselves as trail blazers when it comes to Cryptocurrencies (Bitcoin is a Cryptocurrency). In 2012, they created the Bitcoin Fund, which became the world’s first regulated way of speculating in Bitcoin or investing in it for long-term gain, according to the company’s web site.
Eight months after the negative PR by the SEC decision, in October 2016, Exante changed its name to XNT Ltd, according to MFSA records. It maintained its registered address at Portomaso Towers. The Ultimate Beneficial Ownership (UBOs) is registered in the British Virgin Islands and the Cayman Islands.