Major European money laundering swoop uncovers dozens of suspects

Europol is the law enforcement agency of the EU.
Europol is the law enforcement agency of the EU. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

A major Europe-wide anti-money laundering operation identified dozens of suspicious individuals operating in Estonia, none of whom are Estonian citizens, ERR reports.

The European Police Agency (Europol) said this week that over 200 individuals have been detained worldwide in the swoop through September to November, which focussed on money laundering and related activities in EU countries.

"Over the course of three months, we identified dozens of people who may be involved in money laundering," said Hannes Kelt, head of the Police and Border Guard Board's (PPA) Northern Prefecture serious crime division.

"We have not detained anyone, but active criminal procedures are under way to clarify the circumstances. Our goal is to determine the duration, awareness and possible links of these people to criminal organizations," Kelt told ERR.

One of the biggest concerns, Kelt says, is that money "mules" are often exploited young people, looking for an opportunity to make quick money and not realizing that the activity is illegal.

"For example, criminals recruit money mules through ads posted on social media, simply with the promise of earning money. One example is asking a person to open a bank account, sending money there and asking them to carry it there," Kelt said.

Kelt added the PPA monitors the movement of suspicious money transactions in Estonia and follows suspicions up with background checks, noting that this problem had not gone away.

"The activities to prevent money laundering in Estonia are ongoing and will certainly continue," Kelt added

Europol said Wednesday that more than 200 people in 31 countries were detained in the anti-money laundering operation.

The operation, which ran from September to November across Europe, as well as Australia and the U.S., identified 3,833 potential money launderers, including 386 recruiters, 228 of whom were detained.

"More than 650 banks, 17 banking associations and other financial institutions have helped identify 7,520 illegal money laundering transactions, preventing a loss of €2.9 million," the statement said.

A report by Swedish public broadcaster SVT in February claimed that around €3.8 billion in potentially illicit funds moved between Swedbank Estonia and the now-defunct Estonian branch of Danske Bank. Investigations are ongoing.

As much as €230 billion in potentially laundered money is thought to have been moved via Danske in Estonia between 2007-2015.

The third major retail bank in Estonia, SEB, faces claims that potentially suspicious transactions worth tens of billions of euros passed through its Estonian arm in the period 2005-2018. However, information on SEB is extrapolated from data from its own report, whereas Danske was ordered to close its doors in Estonia forever by the Financial Supervisory Authority (which it did in October) and Swedbank parted company with its CEO and CFO earlier in the year.

Editor: Andrew Whyte

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