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Several years ago, the financial world was shaken by the scandal involving Danske Bank in Estonia. Between 2007 and 2015, the bank had allowed for shady transfers amounting to $200 bln. They made up 40% of all its transactions at the time.

It turned out that Russian oligarchs have used the bank to transfer their roubles into Western accounts, to then withdraw the money in dollars, pounds, or euros. The scandal led the CEO of the Danish bank to step down from his office in September 2018.

Although not the only money laundering scandal involving the Baltic States, it’s certainly been the most spectacular one. Back then, it was the American Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) who revealed illicit transactions.

Dirty Russian capital penetrates Polish banks

In Poland, the topic of money laundering usually receives little attention. Even the annual reports published by the Inspector General of Financial Information provide nothing more than mere statistics on how the Polish institution tasked with preventing illicit financial flows operates. 

Those hoping to find out which companies or institutions are under investigation will be disappointed. The reports fail to disclose such information. It’s all shrouded in mystery and highly classified, it seems. 

AML (Anti Money Laundering) experts aren’t particularly outspoken either. During a phone call, one of them is trying to convince me that, when it comes to monitoring money laundering schemes, Poland is at the very forefront. He even goes as far as to speak of “highest standards”.

-But in general, criminals always manage to be one step ahead of the authorities- he says, spreading his arms helplessly. 

Before we even begin our conversation, however, he makes a disclaimer: his university is bound by a contract with ING Bank Śląski, the very bank whose involvement in shady transactions I wanted to ask him about.

Soon after our interview, the expert called me back. -I don’t mean to interfere with the content of your article, but I just wanted to emphasize that, when it comes to AML, we really are at the very top. I’d regret seeing your article put the banking industry in a bad light...- he says, adding that the case we uncovered is definitely not of the same caliber as the Danske Bank scandal. 

I’m afraid he missed the point. Downplaying the case by comparing it with one of the biggest money-laundering scandals in recent history will always put the concerned party in a much more flattering light. As the FinCEN files have shown, the crux of the matter is that Polish banks are involved in laundering dirty Russian money, too. 

Journalists spilled much ink trying to explain why Latvia and Estonia have become such attractive money-laundering hubs for Russian oligarchs. As the roots causes, the reports usually mention the developed banking system of the Baltic States, their stable economic growth, and, most of all, a rather vast and active Russian population. 

Save for the last one, the Polish economy meets all conditions. Why, then, expect it to be somehow free from suspicion? The FinCEN files that Wyborcza got its hand on only confirm that Poland participates in laundering dirty Russian money, too. The only exception is that we won’t get to see the details. All the information is classified and subject to professional secrecy.

I can’t help but wonder who’s the beneficiary here.

***

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, together with BuzzFeed News and 108 other media partners in 88 countries, including “Gazeta Wyborcza”,  spent 16 months organizing and analyzing the documents, dubbed the FinCEN Files. The investigation shines a light on banks’ roles in hiding money looted from government treasuries, scammed from pensioners, and generated through drug sales, illegal gold mining and other illegal activities. You can find out more about the FinCEN files HERE.  

For our report on the involvement of the Polish unit of the ING financial group in the money laundering scheme please click HERE.

***

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