An international criminal investigation into Danske Bank has led to the first group of bankers being apprehended, and prosecutors say more will probably follow.
Police in Estonia have detained ten former Danske employees, in connection with what may be Europe’s biggest-ever money laundering case. The country’s head of central criminal police, Aivar Alavere, said the group is thought to have acted as a “network” and is suspected of having knowingly enabled laundering. Two of the suspects are also thought to have facilitated or taken bribes.
The prosecutor general in Tallinn, Lavly Perling, said that the detentions were tied to about €300m in suspicious transactions that have been traced back to crimes committed in Azerbaijan and Georgia, more specifically tax fraud and embezzlement.
It’s “very likely” the number of suspects related to the Danske investigations will grow, Mr Alavere said.
Denmark’s biggest bank has admitted that much of about $230bn (€201bn) that flowed through an Estonian branch between 2007 and 2015 was probably suspicious in origin.
Since acknowledging the dubious trades, Danske has purged its upper ranks, removing its chief executive and chairman, and reporting eight employees in Estonia to the police. The bank has so far asked authorities in Estonia to investigate €25bn in questionable transactions.
Danske is under criminal investigation not only in Estonia and Denmark, but also in the US. The development has unnerved investors, who are now bracing for hefty fines. Danske’s share price has plunged more than 40% this year, wiping over $15bn off its market value.
The latest developments shed more light on the length and depth of the investigation into Danske.
Estonian police said they initiated their probe back in November 2017, which is earlier than previously thought. Past efforts to dig up evidence had stalled due to a lack of proof. But media reports helped revive the investigation.
Prosecutors said a criminal complaint by Hermitage Capital founder, Bill Browder, also helped support their probe, allowing them to continue digging.