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Ilves on money laundering scandal: Estonia convenient bad guy for Danske

Former President Toomas Hendrik Ilves.
Former President Toomas Hendrik Ilves. Source: Anna Aurelia Minev/ERR

Speaking in an interview with a Danish paper, former President Toomas Hendrik Ilves said that Estonia as an Eastern European country is a convenient bad guy, so to speak. He believes the money laundering issue is rooted moreso in Denmark than in Estonia.

Danish paper Weekendavisen writes that the Danske Bank money laundering scandal dates almost entirely to the period in which Ilves served as President of Estonia. According to the former president, however, he was surprised when news stories about the money laundering began to appear in the Estonian and Danish media. Ilves claimed that he had never been aware of this issue.

"This is a fairly small bank in Estonia, and nobody that I know has used it," he explained.

Ilves believes that Danske Bank is trying to claim that the money laundering was Estonia's problem — in other words, that this kind of thing could only happen in a country like Estonia.

The 90-page audit conducted by Danish law firm Bruun & Hjejle explains, among other things, that Danske Bank's Estonia branch had never integrated with its parent bank's IT platform, as it was considered too expensive. As a result, the bank had a limited overview of the activity at its Estonian branch.

According to Ilves, this shows that the problem began moreso in Denmark than in Estonia.

"Come now! The primary responsibility for the audit lies with Danske Bank," he told the paper. "What has Estonia done? Estonia has not bought this branch. They want to blame this on someone else."

Estonia fits the narrative

According to the two-term former president, Estonia is a very convenient bad guy for the Danish bank, as it fits the narrative of little Eastern Europe which does not control anything. He believes that in the current Danske scandal, it was Estonia that did its job. The Estonian supervisory authority was informed of suspicious transactions at the local branch in 2007, 2009, 2012 and as late as 2014 and 2015, but the portfolio of problematic foreign clients was closed only at the end of 2015.

"This was a Danish bank," Ilves told the paper. "It is subject to the Danish Financial Supervisory Authority."


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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