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Russian "dirty money" transferred through Finnish banks

A global money-laundering scheme saw at least 18 billion euros smuggled out of Russia into offshore funds via banks in Europe. Investigation shows that in Finland, close to 20 million euros passed through Nordea and other banks, and some of the money was used to purchase items such as furs, computers, power tools and building materials.

Pankkikonserni Nordean konttori Helsingissä.
Nordea is one of the Nordic region's biggest financial conglomerates. Image: Mauritz Antin / EPA

Finnish banks and companies had a relatively small part to play in a global money-laundering scheme, as new evidence shows close to 20 million euros in "dirty money" from Russia changed hands in 2014 in Finland.

Yle's investigative programme MOT took a closer look at the "Global Laundromat" scheme that saw at least 18 billion dollars in dirty money transferred from Russia abroad between 2010 and 2014.

MOT received the information about money transactions associated with the scheme from the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and the Russian publication Novaya Gazeta, which shared the data with media partners in 32 countries, including the Guardian and the Finnish Broadcasting Company Yle.

Most of the money transferred was moved through Moldovan and Latvian banks.

Money connected to the scheme passed through Nordea banks primarily. Goods and services from nearly 30 Finnish companies or firms doing business in Finland were also linked to the laundering operation. The Finnish companies implicated say they have no idea the money had a criminal origin.

Large-scale professional organisation

In their exposé based on the same documents, Britain's Guardian newspaper reports that Britain’s high street banks processed nearly 685 million euros in the operation's funds. British detectives believe the true total figure could be closer to 75 billion euros.

According to the Guardian, the operation would typically involve two firms that would pretend to lend each other money. Russian businesses would underwrite the sums. One company would then "default" on the loan, and judges would certify the "debt" as authentic. This allowed Russian businesses to send cash to an account in Moldova, from where it went on to Latvia, and infiltrated the EU border.

These "fake" loans were paid to shell companies' accounts at the Latvian bank Trasta Komercbanka. Maija Treija, deputy director of Latvia’s finance ministry, says her authority asked the European Central Bank to withdraw Trasta's operating license in March 2016.

"Trasta Komercbanka was used to export the money out of the former Soviet Republics and into the EU financial system," Treija told Yle.

Finland's National Bureau of Investigation has been engaged in international cooperation with the Moldova authorities to get to the bottom of the case, but even the NBI were not aware of the transactions that took place in Finland until Yle's MOT got its hands on the OCCRP report.

"This is naturally very interesting, because it shows that the operation has been really quite professional and systematic, involving a large-scale network," says the NBI's money-laundering investigation director Pekka Vasara.

Investigators are still trying to identify the estimated 500 or so Russians behind the operation, and the Guardian notes that oligarchs, Moscow bankers, and figures working for or connected to the FSB, the spy agency that succeeded the KGB, are on the list.

28 Finnish companies involved

MOT's report revealed that the dirty money also flowed to 28 companies based or operating in Finland.

From 2013 to 2014, 129 payments accounting for a combined sum of 19 million euros were transferred from the Trasta bank in Latvia and the Moldindcondbank in Moldova to Finland.

The papers MOT received show that 16 million euros of the dirty money was transferred through the Nordic banking chain of Nordea's Finnish locations. Nordea has refused to comment on the incident. Other banks also authorized linked transactions; OP Bank oversaw 1.5 million in transfers, while Danske Bank facilitated transfers of 400,000 euros from the Latvian and Moldovan banks.

Three companies dealt in furs, four were in the transport and logistics sector and six in the building industry. The money in question was also used for payments to Finnish beverage producers and event organizers.

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