Former interior minister linked to Danske-related shell companies network

Former interior minister Ain Seppik.
Former interior minister Ain Seppik. Source: ERR/Pealtnägija

Companies belonging to former Estonian interior minister Ain Seppik transferred millions of dollars to shell companies with ties to several infamous money laundering schemes, according daily Postimees, including Danske Bank, which has been ordered to close its Estonian branch by the country's financial regulator.

Sulev and Siim Seppik, Ain Seppik's two sons, were also involved in the activities. The family's business interests include frozen fish wholesaler OÜ Vertimex, which made a profit of over €20 million in 2017, it is reported. The three men have an equal stake in OÜ Vertimex.

"I can affirm that all the transactions carried out by us are real. I cannot comment in more detail because that would be in breach of the confidentiality principle," Sulev Seppik told Postimees.

Postimees says it has access to Vertimex Swedbank bank statements that include transfers of US$1.55 million to a UK-registered shell company, Credojet Alliance LLP, in just a few months. The now-defunct Credojet's account was with the similarly moribund (at least in Estonia) Danske Bank, and Credojet's registered address was a warehouse in outer London which ''housed'' over 100 similar letterbox companies.

International network

In turn, Credojet was an offshoot of two companies registered in the Caribbean nation of Dominica, Atimex Ltd and Crestberg Ltd, both at the centre of a €1 billion suspected money laundering process involving around 100 UK companies and potentially illicit funds connected with ruling elites in the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan.

Altimex and Crestberg documents were reportedly signed by a Brussels dentist, one Ali Moulaye, whose identity may have been stolen, according to online media channel Buzzfeed.

Moldovan bank Moldiconbank had also been involved in money movement; a little over €1 billion of potentially illicit origin in the period 2011-2014, with about €6.5 million of this finding its way into Credojet's Danske account near the end of that period. Money flows between Moldova, another former Soviet republic, and other locations culminated in a €500 million transferred to German bank Deutsche Bank, which has also been linked with the Danske Estonia case but not found to have engaged in wrong-doing.

UK shell company transaction details

Swedbank, which has also come under scrutiny in connection with potential money laundering activities in Estonia, was also used by Credojet, it was reported by Postimees in a separate article.

In this piece, the paper noted US$97 million from another UK shell company, Wireberg, was sent to a company called Formus Baltic, over a six month period. Sulev Seppik has a connection with Formus Baltic too, it is reported. Via a reciprocal arrangement, Sulev Seppik heads up a company called OÜ Whiteriver, owned by a man called Dmitri Novgorodtsev, whilst Whiteriver in turn has a stake in Formus.

Repeated money lodgements of curiously similar amounts of funds (just under €150,000 in each case) were also made by companies with links to the Seppiks.

These were:

- Vertimex (see above).

- Mutiforce, an Estonian company which came under the Seppik's control by 2017 at the latest. Prior to that, it had links to the Seppiks in any case, via a Swiss company called Quantico Gmbh, run by a German national called Joachim Nedela, who had links to the Seppiks. Mutliforce itself had been headed up by one Kristina Zahharova, it is reported. Around the time Multiforce came under the control of the Seppiks, bank lodgements ceased to be noted by date, instead using the text ''as per agreement'', according to the Postimees report.

Vertimex and Multiforce transferred €144,000 and 145,000 respectively to Credojet in December 2014, with the date noted on the transaction.

A further seven payments of €148,148 were subsequently made by Vertimex and Multiforce, to Credojet and another UK shell company, Midex Sales Ltd (a total of just under US$ 1 million were reportedly made via this routed under Sulev Seppik's leadership).

The same two companies later made payments of US$149,206, to Credojet, Midex and yet another UK shell, Euro Project LLP.

Totals and caveats

Altogether companies with ties to the Seppiks transferred a reported €6.7 million to shell companies in the UK, which need not necessarily mean money laundering or illicit activity of any kind, it is reported.

However, it can be stated that the Seppiks have had ties to a network of shell companies which themselves have been utilised for illicit activities in the past and which do not demonstrate any rhyme or reason as to the purpose of their activity, according to Postimees.

An added possibility is that the network was simply used for the movement of money offshore in pursuit of (legal) tax avoidance.

For his part, Ain Seppik, a former police chief, said that he was ''...just a shareholder. Business activity is up to the board, and I am not up to speed on individual transactions," according to Postimees.

Ain Seppik was interior minister of Estonian in 2002, when he was a member of the Centre Party. He later joined the Reform Party.

Editor: Andrew Whyte

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