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Tax pro: Nordea may have committed crimes

Grey economy expert Markku Hirvonen says that banking group Nordea's Luxembourg offices are a channel for tax dodgers in Finland, and that the bank may have committed crimes in individual cases of tax avoidance scheming.

Verotusneuvos Markku Hirvonen.
Marrku Hirvonen. Image: Yle

Taxation and grey market expert Markku Hirvonen says it is difficult to estimate how aware the high command of Nordea Bank has been of the banking group's tax haven services. He does not extend this qualification to Nordea's middle management, who he says could not have been unaware of the bank's illicit operations.

Hirvonen says he was not surprised to see Finnish names in the so-called Panama Papers.

"I've long had the impression that Nordea's office in Luxembourg operates as a channel for people who want to dodge their taxes in Finland," the expert says.

Hirvonen went on Yle's morning show Saturday to say that services relating to setting up tax havens seem to have been a regular part of the office's business. Individual cases may constitute criminal offenses, he says.

"Situations where Nordea has insisted on agreements to be amended afterward point towards some sort of criminal behaviour," Hirvonen says.

Luxemburg a haven of havens

Offshore companies have been founded for years in Panama but also in the little European country of Luxembourg – which Hirvonen says has come to his attention repeatedly.

"Luxembourg offers this dramatic type of privacy due to its strict laws on banking secrecy," he says. "And it might be seen as slightly less dodgy than Panama as a country to run a business in."

Yle reported on Friday that the significance of Finnish customers to Nordea's Luxembourg operation is greater than was previously alleged.

But last Monday Nordea's country manager Ari Kaperi belittled the role of Finnish customers in Nordea's schemes.

"Our Luxembourg office handles international clients, not Nordic clients, so there shouldn't be any Finnish data there," Kaperi then told Yle.

Nordea has faced broad criticism after leaked documents from Panama were made public and showed that Nordea had founded hundreds of companies for its customers in overseas tax havens.

Next steps unclear

The Panama Papers are of great interest to the Finnish tax man, too, but whether the leaked 11 million pages of documents will lead to any further action is still uncertain. Most important is the quality of the information available, says communications chief Mikko Mattinen from the Tax Administration.

"We need to know if it's all pictures or raw data, and whether it'd been digitised or not, and so on. Someone having their name on a document is not enough for us to go on in terms of starting an investigation. We have to know what kind of dealings the people have been involved in and whether their incomes have been reported to the Finnish Tax Administration," he says.

The administration is in possession of an internal, 15-page guideline document that will be used to determine the threshold for reporting a crime in the case of Nordea being implicated in the Panama Papers.

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