Russian-Maltese Exante still operating in Malta and Cyprus despite Russia’s blacklisting

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Exante Group is a Maltese-Russian investment venture with XNT LTD (previously known as Exante Ltd), an investment firm regulated by the Malta Financial Services Authority (MFSA), and EXT Ltd, an investment firm regulated by CySEC. Exante has a long story of investigations by authorities. In 2021, the Russian Central Bank blacklisted Exante and its CySEC-regulated entity. An investigation by The Shift found that the Exante companies are still operating. It is still listed as a member firm of the Malta Stock Exchange (MSE). Exante was the subject of an FBI investigation linked to a major US stock market manipulation case from 2015.

Key data

NameExante Group
BrandsExante, XNT
Legal entitiesXNT Ltd (Malta)
EXT Ltd (Cyprus)
Lartemisis Holding Ltd (Malta)
Lartemisis SPV Ltd (Malta)
XMT Gozo Ltd (Malta)
XNT Finance plc (Malta)
Nations Development Group Ltd (BVI)
Stoic Ltd (BVI)
Zormax Ltd (BVI)
XNT Holdings Ltd (Belize)
Related individualsAlexey Kirienko (LinkedIn)
Anatoli Knyazev (LinkedIn)
Joseph Zammit Tabona,
Michael Bianchi,
Lawrence Zammit
Kristina Arbociute
Patrick O’Brien
RegulatorsMFSA (XNT Ltd)

A well-connected company

A researcher at The Shifta, a Malta-based independent online news platform, described Exante’s network as “a squid-like creature with tentacles everywhere and a bewildering array of names.

Anatoly Knyazev and his Moscow ties

Despite documented run-ins with U.S. and Russian authorities, the same individuals are still operating the Exante Group and its regulated entities EXT and XNT a/k/a ExanteAlexey Kirienko (LinkedIn) and Anatoli Knyazev (LinkedIn). The latter is listed in the Offshore Data Base with a registered address in Moscow, Russia. Exante CEO Alexey Kirienko was seen dining with former Malta President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca in December 2015. The Russian-born Kirienko bought a Maltese passport in 2016, The Shift noted.

In July 2017, Alexey Kirienko and 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. Before he became Exante director, Joseph Zammit Tabona had served as Malta’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom under the tenure of disgraced Malta’s former Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat.

Fintelegram has revealed that three of the Maltese directors, Joseph Zammit TabonaMichael Bianchi, and Lawrence Zammit, have resigned. The company had the best political relations in Malta.

Joseph Muscat resigned abruptly a few weeks after the arrest of Yorgen Fenech, the alleged mastermind of the assassination of a Maltese journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia. Maltese media later revealed that Muscat had started a WhatsApp group with Fenech one day after the arrest of three men in connection to the assassination

In another twist, Malta’s Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit (FIAU) has employed the former compliance officer of Exante, Kristina Arbociute. She worked at Exante during the times when the FBI investigated the company.

The friendly regulator

Several well-connected sources in Malta told FinTelegram that firms with good political connections are treated with great leniency by the regulator. Therefore, it is very popular among Russian entrepreneurs as a gateway to the E.U., along with Cyprus. We do not know whether MFSA and FIAU ever investigated XNT a/k/a Exante. We know, however, that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) investigated this Maltese company.

International media have criticized the Malta Financial Services Authority (MFSA) over the past months. Its CEO, Joseph Gavin, walked out of an interview with his spokesperson Vanessa McDonald, why tried to convince him not to run away. Gavin’s predecessor, Joseph Cuschieri, who resigned in November 2020, was responsible for a period of scandal at the MFSA before Malta’s blacklisting in June 2021. He personified the Maltese regulator’s susceptibility to corruption, cronyism, and weakness.

MFSA’s top management still includes Christopher P. Buttigieg, who enjoyed a record number of promotions under Cuschieri’s tenure. The regulator’s General Counsel, Edwina Licari, who toured the world with Joseph Cuschiri, is also part of the management. The head of enforcement at MFSAMichelle Mizzi Buontempo, who also sits on MFSA’s executive committee, has not raised the issue of XNT or Exante in any of her interviews with the media.

Bypassing scanctions against Russia

The FATF greylisted malta in June 2021. Authorities in the U.S. and E.U. are concerned that the Maltese Golden Passport scheme could be how rich Russians can sidestep possible sanctions by becoming Maltese citizens. Thus, the President of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola, has urged the Maltese Government to stop selling passports to Russian oligarchs. Britain’s Daily Telegraph reported ‘consternation’ in the E.U. and the U.S. that the Kremlin attempts to use Malta as a soft-entry point for access to the European Union and international financial markets. 

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