TALLINN - The Financial Supervision Authority has asked Ain Hanschmidt, former SEB Eesti Uhispank president, for an explanation as to how he acquired a substantial shareholding in Tallink.
The deal, which involves interest in a small company that owns Tallink, was set up in the 1990s and resembles a stock-option. Though it had a face value of some 10,600 euros, it was actually worth some 45 million euros, analysts said.
"That this hasn't been done until now contradicts, in my opinion, the principle of transparent management," said the authority's board chairman, Andres Trink, adding that the authority had been waiting for several days for parties concerned to offer their explanations to the public.
"As board chairman of the Financial Supervision Authority, I think that the matter still needs to be clarified, and the insouciant behavior on the part of Estonian business leaders in this case is regrettable," Trink said in a written statement.
He stressed that the law regulating the authority meant all information gathered would remain confidential. "As head of the authority, I can only confirm that the Financial Supervision Authority and its predecessors have given their best to ensure lawfulness of the activities of the financial institutions under their supervision," Trink said.
Despite calls by several opinion leaders, Hanschmidt and Tallink CEO Enn Pant have not explained when and under what circumstances the former obtained his shareholding in the shipping group. Media reports have alleged that Hanschmidt may have been a concealed co-owner of Tallink as far back as 1997, when loans obtained from Uhispank were vital to helping the company get back on its feet again.
Trink said that the problem was one of perception, and only complete explanations by the parties involved would help clear up speculation.
In July, Hanschmidt announced his resignation from all posts in SEB Eesti Uhispank, where he had been serving as council chairman after years spent as CEO. Later he assumed the duties of chairman of Infortar, which is majority owner of Tallink, the largest passenger shipper in the Baltics.
Hanschmidt has acknowledged in principle that he owns the shares, but has not offered any explanations as regards the time and other details of their acquisition.
Meanwhile, SEB Eesti Uhispank announced that it has started an iternal audit last week to check allegations about Hanschmidt. Evelin Allas, a bank spokesperson, told the Baltic News Service that the audit should be completed next week.