Estonia Says It’s Entitled to Majority of Money Laundering Fines

Estonia Says It’s Entitled to Majority of Money Laundering Fines

(Bloomberg) -- Estonia should get the “majority” of fines that banks under investigation for their roles in Europe’s biggest money-laundering scandals are likely to face, Finance Minister Martin Helme said.

“We are talking about hundreds of millions at least, possibly about billions,” Helme said in a post on his Facebook page. He said he was in New York and had had discussions with lawyers “in an international law office” about how to ensure that Estonia takes part in investigations by U.S. authorities now underway and that his country receives proceeds from penalties imposed on lenders.

Estonia emerged last year as the epicenter of a vast scheme to funnel allegedly dirty money from Russia and other former Soviet Union states into the West. Danske Bank A/S said a large part of 200 billion euros ($220 billion) in transactions through its Estonian unit were suspicious, and Swedbank AB faces allegations that it may have handled more than $100 billion in suspicious transactions.

The Baltic country says its reputation and that of its finance industry has been severely damaged as a result of the scandals, and earlier this year signaled that it would seek compensation. Then-Justice Minister Urmas Reinsalu said in February that he had ordered an analysis of “all legal options.” Potential compensation could exceed “several hundred millions” of euros, and Estonia is entitled to “a part” of it, he said.

Helme expects to discuss “various aspects” of the scandals at planned meetings with representatives of the U.S. Treasury and “several large banks,” public broadcaster ERR cited Helme as saying in an interview on Wednesday. Estonia is ready to cooperate fully for a “speedy, efficient” investigation,” he said.

In a meeting with Swedbank’s chairman last week, Helme blamed the bank for making “conscious decisions and choices” that “enabled money laundering.” That meeting followed Swedbank’s firing of three Estonian executives, as the bank continued a purge which earlier this year included the firing of its chief executive officer.

Estonia Says Swedbank Made Choices That Enabled Money Laundering

According to a finance ministry spokesman, Ott Heinapuu, the Estonian government hasn’t signed any contracts yet with “any U.S. law offices” as the minister “is exploring different options during his U.S. visit on how to proceed with this topic.”

Helme said on Facebook he wants to figure out “how to ensure that the money laundering investigations of our banks that have been launched by the U.S. authorities, which will very likely end with huge fines, would be conducted so that we would be involved in the process throughout and that the majority of the fine would in the end come into the Estonia budget.”

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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