'Red spy' Anna Chapman ran money smuggling ring?

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London, July 18 (ANI): 'Russian spy' Anna Chapman faces claims of involvement in a money-smuggling operation when she was living in the UK.

Anna, 28, is believed to have been behind black-market deals worth millions of pounds while she worked with Ken Sharpe, a businessman, introduced to her by her father, who is a diplomat in the Russian Embassy in the Zimbabwean capital Harare.

Living in North London and working for a firm called Southern Union, she is believed to have been instrumental in handling the movement of cash from British bank accounts to Zimbabwe.

Yet, while Anna's association to the company was never shown in documents filed at Companies House, her then husband Alex Chapman was paid 40,000pounds annually by the firm, which included a 10,000pounds payment he received on condition he was listed as a director.

Alex claims he was asked to leave the company soon after his split from Anna in 2005.

According to an insider, Zimbab-weans wanting to send cash home from Britain would pass it to Anna and her husband who, through international accounts with British banks, would offer a superior exchange rate to anything else on the black market, and wire the sterling to accounts in the African state.

"One bank account they used was at a branch of Barclays in Histon, near Cambridge. There were several others. Much larger sums - millions of pounds' worth each month - were also being traded on behalf of the Zimbabwe business community," The Daily Mail quoted the source, as saying.

Eyewitnesses working in the Harare office of Southern Union revealed that a Ukrainian 'bagman' called Vitaly collected the cash from Zimbabwean banks.

However, because of spiralling inflation in the country, Zimbabwean currency lost value quickly and would be fed to illegal gold, diamond and emerald traders. The informer added that gold ingots and gems would then be flown into Zambia and exchanged for foreign currency which would then find its way to bank accounts.

Whenever those using the scheme wanted their money returned, they contacted Anna and her husband. They made arrangements for the money to be transferred back to a Zim-babwean account. Thereafter, associates picked up the cash and distributed it by hand.

A former client at Southern Union said: "At that time everything you can imagine about a country with its economy in crisis was going on in our offices in Harare.

"We had Russians and Ukrainians running most of the business from our offices in Harare. Businesses all over Zimbabwe relied on us. We were not the only money-smugglers but we were the biggest. Anna's father was crucial to that because he was an official at the Russian Embassy. He stayed in the background but he opened many doors for us."

However, Sharpe has denied any wrongdoing,

In a statement he said: "I am not and have not been involved in activities including currency smuggling, money-laundering and illicit trade in gold or gems.

"I am a businessman and was a client of Southern Union, which I neither founded nor operated."

Alex Chapman has kept mum over the issue. (ANI)

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