Court dismisses charges against Estonians suspected of money laundering
A court in Helsinki has dismissed all charges in the largest money laundering case ever tried by a Finnish court, in which two Estonian nationals were suspected of laundering €135 million in total.
Finland's public broadcaster Yle reported that the district court's decision is not final and can be appealed.
According to prosecutors, the Estonians laundered approximately €135 million of illicitly obtained Russian money into third countries via a Finnish company. Central to the alleged scheme was a motorway allegedly to be built in the Karelia region of Russia.
Finland's central criminal police started investigating the case in July 2014, when its anti-money laundering unit was notified of suspicious transactions on multiple occasions.
The defendants include two Estonians, aged 70 and 44. A third defendant is a Russian entrepreneur aged 44. All three have denied guilt.
According to the Estonian defendants, the money was meant for the construction of a motorway in the Karelia region of Russia.
The so-called Aaninen road was supposed to run from the Parikkala area on the Finnish-Russian border to at least the Russian city of Petrozavodsk. In 2013, when news about the road construction project was published by Finnsh media, including public broadcaster Yle and business newspaper Talouselama, the managing director of a Russian company named Severno-Zapadnyi Koridor Razvitiya said that a Finnish company should become the party preparing the design of the road or the contractor in the project.
The source cited as the managing director in these reports is the 44-year-old Russian national who now stands trial in the case alongside the two Estonians.
According to the charge sheet, a Finnish company by the name of HTR Talonrakennus was hired to prepare the design of the motorway. The prosecutor's office has pointed out that the company had no economic activity and was even lacking work premises.
"To hide the causes of the bank transfers and the origin of the money, the defendants and their partners in Russia had put together an agreement on the designing of a motorway, according to which the basis for the conduct of bank transfers between the company Severno-Zapadnyi Koridor Razvitiya and HTR Talonrakennus was the construction of a motorway from the Finnish border to St. Petersburg," the prosecutor's office said.
According to prosecutors, the agreement was just a disguise for money laundering and the accused never intended to design or build a motorway, despite claiming that the project was introduced to Russian President Vladimir Putin in Petrozavodsk in 2014.
Prosecutors argue that the money originated from a now-defunct Russian bank controlled by a criminal group. According to the prosecutors, the money eventually ended up in 22 countries and over 250 businesses.
The defendants maintain that the money having its origin in said bank does not prove that the money was of criminal origin.
The prosecution sought imprisonment for the Estonian defendants.
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Editor: Helen Wright