New government green-lights money laundering legislation amends

Martin Helme on his first day at work as finance minister.
Martin Helme on his first day at work as finance minister. Source: Anna Aurelia Minev/ERR

The government is proposing legislation to reduce money laundering risks, BNS reports, including regulations concerning virtual currency service providers.

Reducing money laundering, terrorist financing, and other related criminal activities' risks, may be tackled both by amends to existing legislation, the Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing Prevention Act 2017, and to a bill already amending the State Fees Act 2015, it is reported.

Sponsored by finance minister Martin Helme (EKRE), the legislation will cover virtual currency services, in conjunction with the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) Financial Intelligence Unit, including background checks, when issuing currency service provider authorizations.

Authorizations would also necessitate applicant companies opening a branch, on the ground in Estonia. The state fee for such authorizations is set to increase almost tenfold, from €345 to €3,300, BNS reports. Authorization proceedings would take around three months, not one month as at present.

Companies already operating virtual currency services would have until year end to comply with the proposed legislation, it is reported.

Two major money laundering schemes emerged from late 2018, into early 2019. Around €230 billion in potentially illicit funds is thought to have passed via Danske Bank's Estonian branch in Tallinn, during the period 2007-2015.

The scandal led to the Danish bank's CEO's resignation; the Tallinn branch itself has been ordered to close this year. Swedbank in Estonia has also been under scrutiny for similar activities, some linked with Danske. Swedbank has been the subject of investigative work by SVT, the public broadcaster in its home country of Sweden.

''Virtual currency'', for the purposes of the proposed legislation, means a value not constituting a national currency and represented in digital form, including bitcoin and other crypto-currencies, which are digitally transferable, exchangeable and used as a store of value, and which natural persons or legal persons accept as a payment instrument.

The rapidity and ease with which foreign entrepreneurs can apparently open up a business in Estonia, has been something of a national selling point for several years, to date.

Editor: Andrew Whyte

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