Helme: prosecution inactive in combating money laundering

Johannes Voltri
, reporter
Please note that the article is more than five years old and belongs to our archive. We do not update the content of the archives, so it may be necessary to consult newer sources.
Martin Helme
Martin Helme Photo: Pilt videost

Minister of Finance Martin Helme (EKRE) said after a meeting of the government’s anti-money laundering committee yesterday that he believes the prosecution has not been effective enough at combating money laundering over the past ten years and that anti-money laundering legislation should be tougher.

Helme added that the prosecution’s passivity in combating money laundering is one of the reasons the Conservative People’s Party (EKRE) does not support Lavly Perling continuing as prosecutor general.

“We know there have been several major cases of money laundering, but we do not have a single meaningful case that has culminated in serious punishments; investigations have somehow been left hanging in the air,” the finance minister said. “Looking at data, at the number of cases that could and should be investigated and how few of them have actually gotten anywhere, we need to answer the question of how these activities have been so unenthusiastic,” Helme said.

Helme pointed out that instead of introducing tougher measures, anti-money laundering legislation was relaxed five years ago.

Prosecution disagrees

Head of the charges department of the Public Prosecutor’s Office Taavi Pern said that the prosecution has been serious about combating money-laundering. He gave the example of a case of money laundering with ties to cybercrime that culminated in more than 18 million euros paid to state revenues.

“To make fighting money laundering even more effective, the Public Prosecutor’s Office has had a dedicated anti-money laundering prosecutor since 2017,” Pern said.

He added that money laundering cases are made complicated by the fact that information on predicate offenses is usually patchy and money laundering is part of a high-level conspiracy connected to previous crimes, not to mention complexity of international cooperation and big data analysis.

Pern said that proving money laundering offenses would be simpler if money laundering agreements were treated as a crime evidence of which could be obtained by using methods of surveillance.

Members of the committee who met with the finance minister included representatives of several ministries, the tax board, prosecution, police, Bank of Estonia and the financial inspectorate.

Helme sent a letter to investigative and supervisory agencies in early June, asking for a summary of anti-money laundering activities in 2007-2015. Suspicious transactions and Danske Bank and Swedbank took place during that time period.

The Estonian Financial Supervision Authority also compiled a summary of its own.

Lessons learned

“We talked about how the financial watchdog has come along since then, how we’ve learned from past cases, and that was mostly it,” said member of the board Andre Nõmm.

He said work has been done to render exchange of information between agencies more effective. “Talking about cooperation with the prosecution, money laundering data bureau or the central criminal police today, I dare say it is on a whole other level than it was a decade ago,” he said.

Nõmm feels bigger fines are needed as the inspectorate currently lacks levers with which to punish banks that have cost society a great deal. “The maximum fine amount of €32,000 provided by the credit institutions act is like throwing a pinecone at a tank,” Nõmm said.

Minister Helme also said that the government is preparing draft legislation to introduce bigger money laundering fines for banks stretching into millions.