Sa, 4.02.2023

Former minister’s family business transferred millions to shell companies

Martin Laine
, reporter
Former minister’s family business transferred millions to shell companies
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Ain Seppik and his sons Sulev and Siim.
Ain Seppik and his sons Sulev and Siim. Photo: Pm

Companies belonging to former interior minister Ain Seppik and his sons Sulev and Siim have transferred millions of dollars to shell companies with ties to several infamous money laundering schemes. Sulev Seppik maintains the transactions are real and constitute normal business activity.

The Seppiks own a business empire that moves hundreds of millions of euros annually. Even though the total turnover of the family’s businesses is almost three times that of Postimees Group that employs 746 people, the Seppiks haven’t hired a single person.

“It is not rocket science. We buy and sell,” Sulev Seppik told Eesti Ekpress in a comment in 2016.

A dentist with a thousand companies

A part of the empire is frozen fish wholesaler OÜ Vertimex that made a profit of over €20 million in 2017. The three members of the Seppik family have equal stakes in the venture.

Swedbank bank statements at Postimees’ disposal show that Vertimex transferred $1.55 million to the account of a UK company called Credojet Alliance LLP in Danske Bank in just a few months.

Credojet Alliance is a shell company registered in a warehouse on the outskirts of London. The same address houses over a hundred other fictitious companies.

UK laws make it very easy to start a company backed up by thin air. While one needs two companies to start an LLP type firm, no one checks whether there is any substance behind them. Stakeholders in such schemes are usually shelf companies registered in tax havens. The now liquidated Credojet was founded by Altimex Ltd. and Crestberg Ltd. that are registered in the Commonwealth of Dominica.

Äripäev has previously reported that subsidiaries of Altimex and Crestberg (like Credojet) were used in the process of laundering suspicious assets of Azerbaijani leaders where around one hundred UK companies bounced roughly a billion euros between them.

Altimex and Crestberg documents were signed by Brussels dentist Ali Moulaye.

Buzzfeed suggests schemers have used Moulaye’s identity without his knowledge. A network of shell companies was created that was used, for example, in the Moldovan money laundering affair (more on that later) and Deutsche Bank schemes where suspicious companies pursued billions worth of mirror transactions inside the bank that culminated in a $500 million fine for Deutsche.

However, schemes do not only concern Credojet’s founders. We come across the company itself in a bank statement that leaked out of Moldiconbank. The Moldovan bank facilitated the movement of €1.1 billion of suspicious origin in 2011-2014 of which €6.5 million landed on the Danske account of Credojet in early 2014. While there were several remitters, the details always read “for construction equipment”.

Credojet has also transferred sums to Swedbank. Before the aforementioned transactions, the UK shell company transferred $1.19 million in a series of round sums to the account of a Tallinn company that sells turbochargers. It seems that the mysterious Credojet trades in construction equipment, car parts and seafood.

Second fish seller enters the picture

On December 19, 2014, OÜ Vertimex transferred Credojet $144,000, with the details reading “20141219”. Credojet received $145,000 from another Estonian company called Multiforce on the same day.

Multiforce is another company buying and selling frozen fish and sporting impressive financials. The company is owned by Ain, Sulev and Siim Seppik in equal parts.

There are other interesting coincidences. Both Multiforce and Vertimex have transferred Credojet and another UK shell company, Midex Sales LTD, the exact same sum of €148,148 at different times and under different details. In a series of seven payments in all.

Midex Sales, Credojet and UK shell company Euro Project LP have received, at different times and based on different contracts, exactly $149,206 from both Multiforce and Vertimex. These payments total six. The pattern is one of similar or identical sums, irrespective of the remitter and beneficiary.

During the period most of these transactions took place, until April 15, 2015, Multiforce was run by Kristina Zahharova, with a stake in the company belonging to Swiss firm Quantico Gbmh. The latter was in turn run by German citizen Joachim Nedela whose ties to the Seppiks are known in Estonia.

It wasn’t until the spring of 2015 that Sulev Seppik became CEO of the company, with Multiforce moving into the hands of the Seppik family in full in 2017.

Sulev Seppik’s assignment also brought about a change in payment details. Instead of the previous practice of using transaction dates, details now read “as per agreement”. Payments to Credojet and Midex, totaling $979,000, continued under Seppik’s management.

Sulev Seppik also has a connection to Formus Baltic that Postimees described in its first article on the Swedbank leak, that received $97 million from UK shell company Wireberg over a period of six months. Seppik was in charge of Dmitri Novgorodtsev’s firm OÜ Whiteriver, while the latter was a stakeholder in Formus Baltic for a long time.

Companies with ties to the Seppiks have transferred a total of €6.7 million to shell companies in the UK. But none of this means that the Seppiks have engaged in money laundering. The only thing than can be said definitively is that they have had financial ties to a network of shell companies that have been made use of in criminal schemes in the past and the economic activity of which seems devoid of logic.

While such services could be used by criminals, it is also possible that these are ordinary offshore dealings the aim of which is to hide true beneficiaries or avoid taxes.

“I can assure you that all transactions we’ve made have been actual. I cannot comment in any more detail as we would be in breach of the confidentiality principle,” Sulev Seppik wrote in his answer to Postimees via email. “We do not comment on these things,” he confirmed over the phone.

Former police chief, interior minister and Center Party member Ain Seppik was also reluctant to comment on the activities of Vertimex and Multiforce. “I’m just a shareholder. Business activity is up to the board, and I am not up to speed on individual transactions,” he said.