Finance minister: Money laundering Nordic banks' responsibility

Finance minister Martin Helme (EKRE).
Finance minister Martin Helme (EKRE). Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Finance minister Martin Helme (EKRE) says that money laundering concerns in Estonia, as well as the other two Baltic States, are the problem of the affected banks' parent companies in the Nordic countries, rather than something endemic to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

Helme's comments follow reports that SEB, a major Scandinavian-owned bank operating in Estonia, issued a statement regarding Swedish broadcaster SVT. SVT had contacted SEB, saying it had information on potential money laundering activities, information which includes references to SEB.

Two other major Scandinavian banks, Swedbank and Danske, had already been subject to major investigations following claims that their Estonian branches had been used in large-scale money laundering activities. Danske closed its Tallinn branch recently.

"[in the latest SEB reports] the Swedish media has taken the same approach as before (SVT also reported on potentially illicit funds being moved via Swedbank's portals-ed.) to the issue of the Baltic States. In fact, it is becoming increasingly clear that where the share of banks', mainly non – resident, Russian clients became very high, with a high volume of customers and remittances, money laundering risk control standards were not met," Helme wrote on his social media account Friday.

Helme noted that, in general, there is talk of irregularities that have occurred in the past and which are now beginning to emerge.

"The risk of money laundering in Estonian banking today is significantly lower than it was a few years ago. We have also worked hard to achieve this, strengthening the Financial Supervisory Authority (Finantsinspektioon) and the money laundering bureau with human resources," Helme continued.

"However, we are not talking so much about Estonian banks but rather about Nordic banks. The management of these banks and the fundamental decisions on business strategy were still made at headquarters [in the Scandinavian countries], not on the spot [in Estonia]. Yet we are the victims," Helme added.

According to Helme, money laundering scandals have disrupted the normal operation of banking in Estonian and actually damaged the country's economic environment and global reputation, as well as the price and availability of credit.

"At the same time, it has to be reiterated that we are in any case interested in the stability of our banking market, and will do our utmost to ensure that Nordic banks with a large market share continue their operations in Estonia," wrote Helme.

According to Helme, it is quite clear that more bad news is still to come and that burying heads in the sand and not talking about it is out of the question. 

"We need to be prepared for this. Our reaction to this is: We are fighting uncompromisingly to clear up the Estonian economy from money laundering, and our actions are already having results. One result, by the way, is that things are not being swept under the carpet," Helme went on.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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