10 Danske ex-employees suspected of laundering money in Georgia, Azerbaijan

Riigiprokurör Marek Vahing, riigi peaprokurör Lavly Perling ja keskkriminaalpolitsei juht Aivar Alavere räägivad Danske panga kriminaaluurimisest.

PHOTO: Tairo Lutter

The ten persons detained in connection with alleged money laundering at the Estonian branch of Danske Bank mostly worked as relationship managers and all of them are accused of money laundering; the amount of dirty money being spoken about totals 300 million euros, prosecutors said at a press conference in Tallinn on Wednesday.

"To put it most directly, they are the so-called first line of defense in the fight against money laundering. These are people who mostly were customer relationship managers whose job it was to notify of money laundering cases, to prevent them," Prosecutor General Lavly Perling said at the press conference held at the Office of the Prosecutor General.

She said that ten people have been detained, all of whom are suspected of money laundering on a large scale. One person has been declared suspect also in bribe-taking and one in abetting bribe-taking. The total amount of money that passed through the money laundering chains being investigated is 300 million euros.

Media have reported that one of the detained individuals is Juri Kidjajev, head of the department for private and overseas banking at the Estonian branch of Danske Bank during the years when the alleged money laundering took place.

Aivar Alavere, director of the Central Criminal police, said at the same press conference that most of the individuals being spoken about were mentioned also in the Browder report. The former manager of the Estonian branch of Danske Bank, Aivar Rehe, is not among the individuals detained.

According to Perling, the current case deals with two cases of predicate offense, one of them in Georgia and the other in Azerbaijan. The amount laundered could be about one million euros, the chief prosecutor said. The predicate offenses were about fraud in Georgia and an alleged tax offense in Azerbaijan.

Marek Vahing, the public prosecutor overseeing the investigation, said that by now ten requests for the seizure of assets in the amount of 1.5 million euros in total have been filed, since the suspects have received remuneration for their actions.

Speaking about the process of the investigation, Vahing said that by the summer of 2017, investigative journalism had got quite far with its inquiry. He described the work done by investigative journalism in highlighting various activities entailing suspected money laundering as "a good initiator for further actions." 

About the same time, the prosecutor's office started to receive information they did not have earlier. In the summer of 2018, prosecutors started to put pieces of information together. 

"The most important piece of information was that we received tip-offs to the effect that the activity at Danske was systematic and it was done for money, for the purpose of personal gain -- when expressed in legal terms, for a bribe," Vahing said. "The possibility arose to start to investigate."

Vahing said that to date, the prosecutor's office has dealt primarily with two money laundering chains -- the ones in Georgia and in Azerbaijan -- about which the bank has more quality information. There is much more data, however, which the prosecutor's office  hasn't had time to go through yet, he added. 

A part of such lesser quality data, for instance, is information about possible links to Russia contained in the Browder request.

Vahing said that work will continue with the two known money laundering chains as well as additional chains.

"We will continue working," he said, adding that also other information that comes to the prosecution's knowledge will be worked through. 

Answering a question from BNS, Vahing affirmed that the prosecutor's office has been in contact with their colleagues in the United States. An investigation into practices at Danske is underway also in the United States. 

Perling pointed out that one also needs to take into account procedural deadlines, and that the most important thing is quality. The Office of the Prosecutor General will try and bring the matter to a court as quickly as possible, the chief prosecutor added. 

Six former employees of the Estonian branch of Danske Bank were detained on Tuesday and four more on Wednesday morning in connection with the investigation into alleged money laundering at the Estonian branch of Danske Bank, spokespeople for the Office of the Prosecutor General said earlier on Wednesday.

The Office of the Prosecutor General has grounds to suspect them in having knowingly enabled customers of the bank to move money entailed in suspected money laundering.