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Who is the Irish man sanctioned for allegedly facilitating movement of Russian money?

Dublin businessman previously worked for Irish company providing corporate services to overseas clients

An Irish man recently sanctioned for allegedly facilitating the movement of money out of Russia, following the invasion of Ukraine, previously worked for an Irish corporate services company linked to offshore and tax efficiency work.

John D Hanafin (48), originally from Raheny, north Dublin, runs a cash-for-residency advisory company in Dubai, where he has been based for nearly two decades.

Earlier this month, the US department of treasury announced it had placed Mr Hanafin and his company Huriya Private on a list of individuals and entities who had been sanctioned, over alleged business dealings with Russia.

The department claimed Mr Hanafin had “facilitated the movement of Russian money” into the United Arab Emirates, through his company, Huriya Private.


It said that, following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Huriya was involved in quickly moving “Russian assets into structures protecting them from sanctions”.

US authorities alleged Mr Hanafin had also been involved in procuring “fraudulent passports for Russian clients wanting to hide their Russian nationality”, to avoid financial scrutiny and sanctions.

Mr Hanafin, a sharp dresser and admirer of luxury cars, describes himself online as a financier, investor, and “deal maker”.

He has no connection to the Fianna Fáil Hanafin family, which includes former minister Mary Hanafin and former senator of the same name, John Hanafin.

From a big family on St Assam’s Road, in the north Dublin suburb of Raheny, in his early 20s he worked in the Irish financial sector, primarily involved in incorporating and registering companies.

John Desmond Hanafin (48), founder and chief executive of Huriya Private, has been sanctioned by US authorities

He was one of about a dozen employees of Valmet Trust (Ireland) Limited in the late 1990s, a corporate services provider with an office on Christchurch Square, Dublin 8.

One former employee, who worked in Valmet Trust with Mr Hanafin, said in many cases the job involved setting up “off the shelf” companies on behalf of overseas clients, for tax-efficiency purposes.

The former employee, who did not wish to be named, said staff “used to go through the phone book” to find inspiration for company names, which were then set up for clients, he told The Irish Times. At the time Valmet Trust was owned by entities registered in the Isle of Man and Bermuda.

Financial filings show that up until 2000 Mr Hanafin was listed as the company secretary of Valmet Trust, which now goes by the name Pegasus Corporate Services Ltd.

Documents from the Panama Papers leak in 2016 show Pegasus previously worked with the Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca, one of biggest providers of offshore services globally, that collapsed in the fallout of the leak.

Among the leaked documents was a client note from 1998 which stated the Irish company was “well-versed in offshore matters” and provided “tax-efficient structures/trust services to their clients”.

Pegasus previously said its work with Mossack Fonseca was historical and related to company secretarial work for a number of their Irish company clients.

An analysis of financial records from about 50 Irish companies Mr Hanafin provided set-up or other corporate services to shows he worked with Pegasus, then Valmet Trust, from the late 1990s to the early 2000s.

Records show Valmet Trust used a company registered on the tiny south Pacific island of Niue, Silent Secretaries Ltd, as the company secretary of its clients.

Among the scores of companies Mr Hanafin helped incorporate are some household names. He set up dormant companies for Leinster Rugby, Connacht Rugby and Munster Rugby clubs, where records list him as an “administrator”.

Company filings show he was acting as a director of the three companies from their incorporation in early 1997 until late 2000, when Irish Rugby Football Union officials took over as directors.

One IRFU source said Mr Hanafin’s work only extended to company set-up services to register the names of the rugby clubs as dormant companies, a legal practice.

In the early 2000s, Mr Hanafin left Ireland and moved to Gibraltar, where he continued to work advising on company formation structures.

He later joined Sovereign Group, a company based in the British Overseas Territory primarily involved in setting up and managing tax-efficient structures. For nearly a decade he worked as the group’s regional head of the Middle East in Dubai.

A colleague who worked with him during this period described Mr Hanafin as a “typical Irish guy”, who would have been known to be “chatty”.

He left at the start of 2016 to take a job as chief executive of Arton Capital, a company that specialises in citizenship- and residency-by-investment schemes.

These cash-for-visa or residency schemes provide an official avenue for wealthy individuals to secure citizenship or residency in a country by committing to invest substantial funds there.

In late 2018, Mr Hanafin started his own company, Huriya Private, which focused on helping wealthy clients apply to these residency schemes.

Mr Hanafin describes himself as an “expert in citizenship by investment”, as well as “personal and corporate taxation”.

Huriya, which roughly translates as “freedom” in Arabic, has offices in Dubai, where Mr Hanafin is based, as well as Zurich and Doha.

Its website, which in recent days has been taken down and placed “under maintenance”, stated Huriya assisted wealthy individuals to apply for residency investment schemes in Malta, Greece, Turkey, Canada, Cyprus and Ireland.

The Irish immigrant investor scheme was abruptly shut down by the Government earlier this year over concerns about a surge in applicants from China.

When asked if Mr Hanafin had ever acted as an agent on an application under the Irish scheme, a Department of Justice spokesman said it “does not comment on individual cases”.

Under the various schemes, Huriya states it provides wealthy investors “with the freedom to travel visa-free, and to access and repatriate their wealth, in the most commercial, tax-efficient and cost-effective manner possible”.

US authorities also placed sanctions on two other firms – Cyprus-based Huriya Private Cyprus Ltd and Hong Kong-based Gold Miles Limited – as it said they were linked to Mr Hanafin.

In the aftermath of the invasion of Ukraine, the US, Britain and European Union have introduced sanctions targeting a range of individuals and companies with links to Russia.

A former associate of Mr Hanafin described him as a “character” and a “happy go lucky” type.

“He could sell sand to the Arabs, and he did,” they said.

“He liked his clothes, liked his cars. You wouldn’t have a bad word to say about him personally,” the former colleague said.

Announcing his inclusion on its sanctioned list, the US treasury department also published the address of a cryptocurrency wallet allegedly linked to Mr Hanafin.

An analysis of the wallet, which was set up in January 2022, shows more than 100 transactions moved to and from the account.

One Garda source, familiar with investigations tracking cryptocurrency, said the number of transactions over the last 15 months was relatively small, but added someone could have multiple wallets.

However, in some instances the amount of funds moving through the wallet were substantial. Transactions between April and July 2022 included several payments of significant sums worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Mr Hanafin has links to a foundation promoting female entrepreneurs in low- and middle-income countries, set up by Cherie Blair, the wife of former UK prime minister Tony Blair.

In late 2016, Mr Hanafin posted a picture of himself with the former Labour Party leader and Mrs Blair, praising her charity for its work helping to “empower women all over the world”.

He set up the Huriya Private Foundation at the start of 2021, which lists an address in Covent Garden, London.

The Cherie Blair foundation did not respond to requests for comment on its dealings with Mr Hanafin or Huriya Private Foundation.

Mr Hanafin did not respond to requests for comment on his past work in Ireland or recent sanctions from US authorities over his dealings with Russian clients.