COPENHAGEN, Denmark – A Danish newspaper said Tuesday a whistleblower warned the management of Denmark’s biggest bank in 2013 that family members of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russia’s spy agency were using its Estonian bank branch for money laundering.
Denmark’s Berlingske daily says the leaked internal report indicated that the Danske Bank leadership knew “of far more serious conditions than previously stated.”
The paper adds that Danske Bank in 2013 shut down 20 Russian customer accounts following a whistleblower report alleging that its Estonian branch possibly had been involved in illegal activity. The clients’ identities were kept secret at the time.
The paper shared details of the scheme with the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, a group of anti-corruption reporters, and Britain’s Guardian newspaper.
The Guardian said that a different group of firms, mostly registered in London, were involved, including Lantana Trade LLP, which had filed “false accounts.” The British daily said the ultimate owners of Lantana and related partnerships were Russians but “their identities were hidden behind a series of offshore management firms based in the Marshall Islands and the Seychelles.”
It was not clear how the investigative reporters connected Putin’s family members and Russia’s Federal Security Service to the transactions.
Danske Bank told The Associated Press it had carried out “a thorough investigation to get to the bottom of the events at that time in our Estonian branch,” adding it had no comments “until the investigation has (been) finalized.”
“Furthermore, we are unable to comment on specific customers, but the entire portfolio in question (non-residents) has been closed down,” the bank said in a statement.
Danske Bank earlier had acknowledged illegitimate transactions at its Estonian branch in 2011-2014, including money-laundering schemes, involving billions of dollars from Azerbaijan.
“As we have previously said, on the basis of what we know now, we should have done this faster. Today, we have a very different and stronger control setup in Estonia,” the bank added.
Meanwhile, Estonia’s financial watchdog said it suspects Danske Bank’s Estonian branch of misleading the Baltic country’s authorities.
The Financial Supervision Authority said it is considering a new investigation into the branch’s activity in relation to money laundering, Estonian public broadcaster ERR reported Tuesday.
The Estonian regulator did conduct inspections at the branch in 2014 during which it found extensive and systematic violations of anti-money laundering rules.
It also noted at the time that Danske hadn’t sufficiently analyzed the nature and activities of its client Lantana Trade LLP.