Estonia's Office of the Prosecutor General launched a criminal investigation on Tuesday morning into potential money laundering connected to Danske Bank.
"The proceeding was launched this morning on the grounds of § 394 of the Penal Code, which concerns money laundering," Office of the Prosecutor General press officer Kaarel Kallas told BNS on Tuesday afternoon. "As the proceeding was launched this morning, we don't have any suspects yet."
Danske Bank's Estonian operations may have been used to launder as much as €7 billion, which is more than twice as much as initially believed. The case is being investigated by Danske Bank itself, the High Court of Paris as well as the Danish Financial Supervisory Authority.
Bill Browder, CEO of investment fund Hermitage Capital Management and former employer of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, also sought for a criminal investigation to be launched against 26 employees of the Estonian branch of Danske Bank who allegedly enabled the laundering of billions of dollars of dirty money through the bank, dailies Postimees and Äripäev reported last week.
BREAKING: Estonian General Prosecutor has opened a criminal investigation into Danske Bank's operations in Estonia in response to the criminal complaint we filed last week in connection to the Magnitsky case. Still waiting for the Danish authorities to respond. pic.twitter.com/gCz7vbvm79— Bill Browder (@Billbrowder) July 31, 2018
"I would like to stress that Danske Bank's Estonian branch was a transit point of key importance in Russian-European money laundering," Browder told daily Postimees. "Today's decision by Estonia's Prosecutor's Office is an important step in the global investigation of money laundering."
Browder noted that it's not too late for the Prosecutor's Office to launch a criminal investigation. "The majority of evidence is already there," he said. "All that's needed to conduct the investigation is will, but will is something that Estonian investigators thus far haven't demonstrated."
Legal Affairs Committee wants to find ways to prevent money laundering
The Legal Affairs Committee of the Riigikogu on Tuesday met to discuss the responsibility of the authorities concerning the Danske Bank money laundering case and found that the Riigikogu has to address the issue more thoroughly. The committee will also help draw up an amendment for the more effective prevention of money laundering.
"The Legal Affairs Committee expects all factions of political parties in the Riigikogu to submit by 12 September their position on whether to establish an investigation committee to deal with the money laundering case or form a working group at the Legal Affairs Committee that would investigate this problem in depth," committee chairman Jaanus Karilaid (Centre) said according to a Riigikogu press release.
Karilaid added that another committee proposal concerned the obligation to prove the origin of the money. "Currently, the state has to prove the illegal origin of money, but in cooperation with the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Justice, the Legal Affairs Committee is studying the possibility of changing the legal order so that, in the future, the owner of the money or the conductor of the transaction has to prove the legality of the money."
According to committee member Külliki Kübarsepp (Free), there is no need to establish a separate investigation committee. "In the money laundering case, an investigation committee would not ahve access to any more information than the Legal Affairs Committee does now," she pointed out. "But the establishment of a new committee would require additional resources, which is not reasonable essentailyl half a year ahead of the Riigikogu elections."
Minister of Justice Urmas Reinsalu (Pro Patria), who also attended Monday's committee meeting, said that the establishment of an investigation committee may still be necessary in order to determine why Estonia had become an attractive country for conducting large-scale money laundering.
Editor: Aili Vahtla
Source: BNS, ERR