Estonia battles money laundering

  • 2004-01-22
  • From wire reports
TALLINN - A recent attempt by a group of Israeli citizens to launder some 80 million kroons (5 million euros) through three Estonian banks was thwarted by anti-organized crime units, and officials said they expected more such transactions in the future.

The Postimees daily reported last week that this was the first recorded attempt by international criminal organizations to launder money through Estonian financial institutions.
The funds the Israelis attempted to launder likely consisted of income from illegal sales of weapons, drugs and people.
Arnold Tenusaar, head of the criminal police's anti-money laundering division, said that even though the attempt, made last summer, failed, there would be new attempts.
"We have had suspicions that organized crime was planning to launder money in Estonia also before, but this case has been the largest of them all," said Tenusaar.
Under the scheme, local banks were to be used for laundering money through several accounts opened by two Israeli citizens in three banks last June.
According to police, a young man and a retirement-aged woman opened the three accounts in Estonia over the course of two days, after which they left Estonia.
Within days several payments originating from Ukraine, totaling some 3.6 million euros, were made on the woman's account. Pursuant to the payment request, the funds were transferred "in connection with departure to permanent residence," police said.
All three banks informed the anti-money laundering agency of the suspicious transactions, and the police opened an investigation.
The anti-money laundering division contacted Interpol in Israel and provided them with the identity of the persons who opened the bank accounts. Later, on June 25, after a request by Israeli authorities, the accounts were frozen and the funds seized.
Israeli officials informed that the man who opened the accounts had been charged with money laundering in Israel. More interestingly, the woman was the mother of 39-year-old Mikhail Komisaruk, a former Ukrainian citizen who allegedly devised the entire scheme.
According to police, Komisaruk emigrated from Ukraine to Israel in 1992. He is believed to be the owner of several banks in Ukraine. For the purposes of laundering money, he used a software company that he created, though police claim it was essentially an underground bank with some 5,000 customers.
For an undisclosed fee, Komisaruk would transfer his customers' funds to banks in Eastern and Western Europe, America and Australia, where the funds would be withdrawn or transferred to yet another bank.
Although Komisaruk's transactions were large, reaching into hundreds of millions of dollars, Tenusaar denied claims that the Israeli citizen had transferred $3 billion in one week through Estonia to Denmark.
The Postimees wrote that the investigations were still underway in Estonia, Israel and Ukraine and that dozens of people have been arrested.