Estonia hires US law firm to investigate money laundering

Published: July 3, 2020

Minister of Finance Martin Helme (EKRE) has entered into an agreement with the U.S law firm Freeh Sporkin & Sullivan LLP to provide legal services to the Estonian state in international money laundering investigations. The state will pay €3 million for two years of legal aid.

The law firm has also been used by the Estonian state to investigate major money laundering cases in the U.S. in recent years.

Helme said the reputation of the Estonian state has been severely damaged internationally after being connected to several international money laundering cases in recent years.

Investigations have been initiated in several countries in connection with violations of anti-money laundering requirements by Estonian-based banks or their branches. This includes investigations in the U.S.

Helme said: “It is very important for Estonia that these complex cases are thoroughly investigated and that we know as much as possible about what actually happened in the past. Therefore, it is important for the Estonian state to participate in this process as actively as possible, to cooperate with the research institutions of the United States. If, as a result of investigations, fines are imposed on banks, then [we need] to participate as a state in the distribution of fines.”

He added: “As a country, we are the victims of this process. It is very important that we have a very strong and experienced partner in the United States.”

State to pay law firm €3 million
Helme said at a press conference on Friday the fee for the contract with the law firm is €3 million for two years.

Louis Freeh, the leader of the advisory team to the Estonian state, said at the press conference his task is to be a guide for the Estonian Attorney General and to ensure the flow of information between the US and Estonian law enforcement agencies.

Hosts of ‘Olukorrast riigis’ discuss perception of racism in Estonia Freeh said his role is to assist the Estonian government with legal advice and representation in already known and suspected money laundering cases related to Nordic banks operating through their Estonian and other Baltic subsidiaries and affiliates, concerning billions of dollars worth of money in violation of local and international law and Estonian supervision.

Freeh said his work is divided into three stages.

First, he will establish high-level contacts between Estonian government agencies and the United States Department of Justice and Finance, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and other relevant agencies. This will ensure good communication, information exchange, and coordination of bilateral and multilateral investigations.

Secondly, he will work closely with the Estonian investigative bodies and offer them assistance in interviews and analysis of documents in Estonia and other countries.

Thirdly, Freeh will offer legal assistance and support to the Estonian government regarding possible financial penalties.

According to Freeh, his office intends to be very careful not to create any conflict with Estonian law, including the constitution, for example, when using personal data. Helme added that he did not see the possibility of a constitutional violation.

Freeh said the probability that Estonian banks will receive part of the fines is very high.

“Our ministry has shown a willingness to share this income with the affected countries. My goal is to get as much compensation for Estonia as possible and to assess these damages. There are tangible damages and also reputational damages that certain expertise is able to measure,” Freeh said.

Freeh Sporkin and Sullivan’s team have extensive experience in investigating international crime, corruption and money laundering. Louis Freeh, the leader of the Estonian state advisory team, was a judge in the Southern District of New York from 1991 to 1993 and the director general of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) from 1993 to 2001.

It is the Southern District of New York that is the site of major international banking crimes in the United States, as it also includes the island of Manhattan.

The Estonian advisory team includes Ronald K. Noble, who from 1993 to 1996 held senior positions in financial crime investigations at the US Treasury Department and from 2000 to 2014 as director general of Interpol.

The team also includes Walter Donaldson, who previously served as head of fraud investigations at the commercial bank Bank of America, and several other top experts with experience in investigating international financial crimes.