Huge sums may have been laundered through Estonian forex bureau, bank

22.01.2010, 12:32

Estonian currency exchange bureau Tavid and Sampo Pank may have been used in one of the largest money laundering scheme in Eastern Europe where some 15 billion kroons changed hands, writes today's Äripäev.

On December 10, 2007, Tavid received 45 million kroons in its bank account from Stern Treid LLC. One of the shareholders of Stern Treid is Yuri Kasjanov who is being investigated in Bulgaria for involvement in one of the largest money laundering schemes in Eastern Europe.

Kasjanov's company had signed a financial services contract with Tavid under which the company was to transfer to Tavid more than 200 million kroons. 

This is not the first time for Tavid to be involved in a money laundering scandal. Russian citizen Dmitri Abramkin who was arrested in Bulgaria in spring 2008 was found to own companies that had several contracts with Tavid. One of his companies, Optima Ka, is believed to have transferred several billion kroons to Russia through Tavid. Investigation has proved that Tavid had provided its services in good faith and was being taken advantage of criminals, said public prosecutor Steven-Hristo Evestus.

According to experts, Estonian financial institutions are popular among criminals for laundering money because Estonia offers cheaper currency transactions than Russia and less regulation than in the European Union, to say nothing of Estonia's convenient location  for such transactions.

In cooperation with Bulgarian investigative journalist Stanimir Vaglenov, Äripäev has now unearthed a new money laundering scheme in which Tavid has been used while also the criminals are believed to be the same, including Abramkin.

When Äripäev showed its findings collected with the help of local journalists to Estonian investigators, the latter admitted that most of it was new information for them.

According to the information available to Äripäev, three companies open bank accounts in Piraeus Bank in Bulgaria more than two years ago. They sign fictious agreements with each other, mainly on trading of tools and launder about a billion kroons worth of funds through the accounts. Money is believed to have originated from Russia and  was transferred back to Russia shortly after it was "legalized". Money is transferred finally to Estonia and then on to Russia.

On November 30, 2007 Juri Kasjanov who is a citizen of Russian Federation and owns Stern Treid LLC signs a contract for financial services with Tavid. For Tavid, the contract is signed by supervisory board member Lauri Haasma.

According to transaction reports, at the end of 2007 and beginning of20087, Stern Trade made several transfers to the bank account of Tavid. In several cases, transferred amount exceeded 40 million kroons. In four months, Tavid receives over two hundred million kroons.

It should be noted that Stern Trade LLC that was registered in the US state of Delaware ended its business in 2006, but its Bulgarian subsidiary entered into fictious agreements a few years later.

In November 2007, Eksikon Ltd that belongs to St. Petersburg watch businessman Juri Chepurnyhh signs a contract with two companies S-Clothing and Appliances LLC for selling watches in Tallinn. Eksikon then receives a few transfers from Stern Treid LLC under this contract. Eksikon itself was founded in Estonia in 1996 and has a few million kroons in sales, mainly in Russia.

Kasjanov and Chepurnyhh are friends and last year visited a trout fishing farm in Estonia. The press names both businessmen from St. Petersburg who have business in Estonia. Chepurnyhh admitted to Äripäev that he knew Kasjanov well, but said he had not heard him being charged in money laundering.

Transfers to Tavid stop in the spring 2007 when Bulgaria arrests Elizabeth Elena von Messing and her assistant Dmitri Abramkin for involving in large scale criminal activities. Money starts moving again in the autumn 2008, but the scheme is changed, probably because of the arrest of Abramkin. Money is now transferred through Tempo HN, a company owned by Bulgarian citizen Hristo Mushev who specialises in tool trade. He then transfers large amounts to the accounts of Briersoft Investments which then sends it to its bank account in Sampo Pank in Estonia.

According to Bulgarian journalist Stanimir Vaglenov, both money laundering schemes are now gone to court. Although both cases involving Tavid are linked, the two are handled separately to speed up the process.

Note from the editor: the preparation of this article was financially supported and advised by the European Fund for Investigative Journalism.