More than a hundred customers of the Swedish SEB bank could launder money through its branch in Estonia and other Baltic countries, Swedish SVT TV channel reported on Wednesday. Moreover, as his investigation revealed, part of the money transferred through this unit is connected with the Magnitsky case. Thus, SEB became the third Scandinavian bank, around which there was a scandal involving money laundering from Russia through Estonia, after the Danish Danske Bank and Swedish Swedbank.
SVT, together with the journalists of the Corruption and Organized Crime Investigation Project (OCCRP), obtained and analyzed information on SEB transactions in the Baltic States in 2005–2017. They managed to identify 194 suspicious non-resident customers - companies that had accounts in SEB in the Baltic countries and Sweden, but were registered in other states. Of these, 150 are registered in the British Virgin Islands, in Belize, Panama, and also in the UK, where dummy companies were registered that received money through the Estonian branch of Danske Bank.
According to SVT, among the money transferred through the accounts of such companies, there were about 475 million Swedish kronor ($ 49.5 million) related to the Magnitsky case. The channel also claims that 130 of the most suspicious companies transferred about $ 280 million over the period through SEB.
Graeme Barrow, whom SVT calls one of the world's leading money laundering experts, told the channel that it knows well several Latvian names associated with many of the 194 companies. According to him, these people, as well as a number of other SEB clients, are well known to him and his colleagues: they front many companies, being recorded by their owners or managers, which allows you to hide the names of the true beneficiaries.
According to SVT, 87 suspicious companies have common addresses, including those that have already appeared in other money laundering scandals. And practically no company conducts significant operations in the country where it has an account.
SEB CEO Johan Torgebi denied the information from SVT and told Reuters that all banks at any given time are “exposed to the risks associated with financial crimes”. “We did not see any evidence that any of the 179 companies on the sanctions list for the Magnitsky case has ever been a client of SEB,” he said. Torgebi also added that the bank did not understand the analysis of the TV channel and did not see the need to take any action after this report.
On Tuesday, November 26, on the eve of the SVT broadcast, the bank announced that non-resident customers of its Estonian branch made € 26 billion ($ 29 billion) of transactions in 2005–2018 that would not meet its current transparency standards. The bank also admitted that it had indeed revealed some cases of money laundering and reported them to the authorities. However, Torgebi claims that SEB was not used for systematic money laundering. In the fall of 2018, when the CEO of Danske Bank was forced to resign due to the money laundering scandal, Torgebi also insisted that SEB clients and investors should not worry about his operations in the Baltic countries.
The preparation of the SVT report on money laundering in SEB became known on November 15, when the bank announced that it had received questions from the channel. SEB shares then fell 13%. By the close of trading on November 26, their quotes fell by almost 8% since the beginning of the year (before November 15, they showed an increase of 7%). But on Wednesday, after the release of the report, SEB shares rose 3.7%, as the Wallenberg family, which controls about 20% of its shares, expressed satisfaction with the way the bank resolves these issues.
Last year, it turned out that about 200 billion euros ($ 234 billion) from Russia and the CIS countries in 2007–2015 passed through the Estonian branch of Denmark’s largest bank, Danske Bank. and a significant portion of transactions can be classified as suspicious transactions. In relation to Danske Bank, several countries are currently conducting investigations, including criminal ones.
At the beginning of 2019, it became known that Swedbank in 2008–2018. through its unit in Estonia, it carried out high-risk operations worth approximately EUR 135 billion ($ 151.5 billion), mainly with the money of Russian clients. SVT together with the Estonian Postimees newspaper was the first to inform about this then, and part of the suspicious transactions of Swedbank, according to journalists, is also related to the Magnitsky case.