The Prosecutor's Office says it had already filed suspicions regarding an Estonian company's participation in a case concerning a Ukrainian state-owned document printing house at the end of 2021, though the case has not yet reached the courts.
The National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) announced that it had uncovered a large-scale international criminal embezzlement scheme at the state-owned "Ukraine" printing house, which produces forms of official documentation including Ukrainian citizens' passports, ID cards and driver's licenses.
Ukrainian law enforcement bodies had also raised suspicions, inter alia, regarding the management at an Estonian company which was a supplier of materials used in blank document forms
This company allegedly purchased materials directly from the manufacturers, then resold them to the Ukrainian state-owned company at a price four-to-six times that purchase price.
According to NABU, within the framework of a joint investigation, Estonia has charged four people with the legalization of money stolen from a printing house.
The Estonian Prosecutor's Office press service told ERR's Russian-language news portal that at the end of 2021, the Central Criminal Police had charged three individuals with large-scale money laundering, while one more person is under suspicion of aiding and abetting money laundering.
A spokesperson for the Prosecutor's Office said: "The criminals are at the pre-trial proceeding stage, i.e. nobody has been charged yet."
The Prosecutor's Office had previously stated suspects Priit (aged 55), Aivar (54) and Dmitri (50) are under suspicion of helping to conceal the origin and real owners of property obtained via criminal means, as money laundering services (Estonian law requires that the suspects' full names not be published-ed.).
A network of firms registered in various different countries, along with bank accounts controlled by the suspects, had been used to conceal these funds.
According to the Prosecutor's Office suspicion, the money laundering activity totaled a value of nearly €28 million.
Another suspect, Svetlana (51) is under suspicion of contributing to these money laundering activities, while according to preliminary data, the funds were the proceeds of crimes committed in Ukraine, where a separate investigation is also underway.
Leho Laur, head of the economic crimes office at the Central Criminal Police, said the case bears all the classic hallmarks of money laundering, with sums of money being moved from one account to another in order to layer and mix up transactions, rendering it difficult to identify the funds' original sources.
Laur said: "During the course of the investigation, we determined that in order to legitimize the money and conceal its true origins, the suspects presented fictitious invoices, signed contracts and granted loans in the name of various firms."
"The suspects' activities were conspiratorial and long-term, over a duration of almost eight years. The criminal suspicions have it that providing money laundering services constituted a key source of income and area of activity for the suspects. Money laundering is an integral part of large-scale financial crime, and it causes very great damage to the crime's victims, as well as reputational damage to the state and financial institutions through which the money laundering has been committed," Laur went on.
State Prosecutor Maria Entsik says the trickiest part of any money laundering criminal case is identifying the preliminary crimes which make it possible.
Entsik said: "Preliminary crimes are often committed in countries where it is difficult to gather evidence, to investigate crimes and/ or to identify them. In this criminal case, Estonian law enforcement agencies have been working closely with their Ukrainian counterparts, since in a situation where crime crosses national borders, local investigations alone do not produce the desired results."
"International investigation teams are formed to uncover more and more crimes, thus making the procedures more effective, as each country's investigative agency can focus on what was committed within their own jurisdiction, by gathering evidence and t making a more effective contribution to clarifying the facts of the matter," she went on.
In the course of these proceedings, the Prosecutor's Office has requested the court seize criminal proceeds worth around €.2 million.
NABU says a total of seven individuals took part in the scheme, among them the former Minister of Health of Ukraine, Maksym Stepanov, who headed up the "Ukraine" printing house from 2011 to 2016.
According to NABU, in 2013, the head of the "Ukraine" printing house had at the time acquired an Estonian company and set a mandatory requirement for foreign partners in cooperation, meaning the delivery of products via this firm. The company then acted as an intermediary in the procurement of materials used in the production of official documents such as passports, ID cards and driver's licenses.
The intermediary company purchased the materials directly from the producers and then resold them to the state-owned company with a four-to-six-fold inflated markup.
Between 2013 and 2016, criminals allegedly embezzled around half a billion hryvnia (approximately €12.3 million) via this scheme
NABU adds that on July 21 this year, five people were named suspects. Among these were the former director and department head of the "Ukraine" printing house and one private individual. In addition, documents were then sent to Estonia to report the suspicion relating to two Estonian citizens connected to the company.
According to NABU, authorities in Estonia have charged a total of four people with money laundering in relation to the case.
Editor: Andrew Whyte, Mait Ots
Source: ERR Novosti