Prosecutors raid Swedbank as money laundering scandal escalates

EPA-EFE//VALDA KALNINA

Swedbank's head office in Tallinn, Estonia, 25 March 2019.

Prosecutors raid Swedbank as money laundering scandal escalates


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Law enforcement officials in Sweden raided the offices of Swedbank, one of the country’s most major banks, following an investigation into the lender’s activities which allegedly found evidence indicating that the bank had been used for laundering billions of euros over a period of several years.

The Swedish Economic Crime Authority and the police said Swedbank is suspected of breached insider information rules by giving its biggest shareholders advance notice of a public broadcaster (STV) report on money laundering that was broadcast on 20 February.

In addition, Swedbank officials allegedly withheld information from American federal investigators concerning their relationship with Donald J. Trump‘s now-jailed former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort. Manafort was paid over $1 million through a Swedbank account for services rendered to Ukraine’s pro-Russian former President Viktor Yanukovych, The latter was later ousted from power in February 2014 by the pro-democracy Euromaidan Revolution. Yanukovych was forced to flee to Moscow where he now lives in exile under the protection of Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

Manafort was convicted on eight charges of tax and bank fraud. He later pled guilty two charges of conspiracy to defraud the United States and witness tampering for which he was sentenced to 86 months in prison that also included additional time behind bars for repeatedly lying to federal investigators.

Swedbank is also suspected of going to great lengths to conceal its dealings with other autocrats and members of organised crime in the former Soviet republics. US investigators contacted Swedbank over transactions by its customers linked to Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, which was at the centre of a global tax avoidance and money laundering scandal in 2016.

The lender is believed to have used its Estonian subsidiary for money laundering in cooperation with Danske Bank. Sweden’s public broadcaster reported that several transactions between Danske Bank and Swedbank in Estonia should have raised red flags, but were initially ignored. Reports indicate that the total amount of money laundered through Swedbank’s Estonian subsidiary could amount to €20 billion a year between 2010 and 2016. Swedbank is believed to have handled a cumulative total of €135 billion in assets from high-risk non-residents, mostly Russians and Ukrainians.

An investigation by the Swedish public broadcaster pointed to an internal Swedbank report which showed how accounts linked to the so-called Magnitsky case were moved through the bank as late as 2018, while the bank’s management had full knowledge of the origin of the money since 2013.

Sergei Magnitsky was a Russian auditor who uncovered a massive tax fraud scheme involving Russia government officials and Kremlin insiders, all of whom defrauded taxpayers to the tune of $230 million by laundering the money through two Ukrainian banks.

After Magnitsky began to investigate those who were involved in a series of money laundering schemes he arrested in 2008 and died less than a year later after being beaten and tortured while being held in pretrial detention at Moscow’s infamous Butyrka Prison.

Swedbank management insists that it has always abided by anti-money laundering legislation and reports all suspicious transactions to authorities, but that it cannot comment on specific transactions due to banking secrecy laws.

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