Aivar Rehe death: Former head of Danske Bank unit at heart of €200bn money-laundering scandal found dead

The former head of Danske Bank in Estonia, who was a witness in an investigation into a €200bn (£177bn) money-laundering scandal, has been found dead in an apparent suicide.

The body of Aivar Rehe, who went missing on Monday, was found near his home, the local police said on Wednesday. Police had warned that the 56-year-old, who ran the bank branch until his departure in 2015, was a suicide risk.

“The body has no signs of violence, neither does anything point to an accident,” police said, declining to provide further details out of courtesy to Mr Rehe’s family. There will be no investigation into his death, they added.

The scandal has dominated Estonian media since the former executive disappeared. Mr Rehe, known as a workaholic, joined the bank a year before its 2007 takeover by Danske. He wasn’t a suspect in the laundering probe and wasn’t among a group of Estonian bankers detained by police last year.

In an interview with local media in March, Mr Rehe said that as the CEO of the Estonian branch, he naturally felt responsible for the affair, in which suspicious payments went through the unit between 2007 and 2015. But he also said the unit had a “very normal daily” workflow. “Competent bodies inside and outside the bank did their job to the best of their knowledge,” he told the Postimees daily.

Danske was ordered by Estonia’s regulator to pull out of the country earlier this year and is now the target of criminal investigations in Denmark, Estonia and the US. Preliminary criminal charges have been brought against several of its former executives in Denmark, including former group CEO Thomas Borgen.

Danske’s dirty-money saga has implicated other banks since it burst into the headlines last year. In the Nordic region, Swedbank is being investigated amid allegations it may have handled more than $100bn in potentially suspicious transactions via its Baltic operations. A picture is emerging of widespread misconduct in which suspicious funds from Russia were channelled via Nordic banks into the West over a period of several years.

The affair has been disastrous for Danske’s share price. Last year, it lost almost 50 per cent in market value, and shareholders have had to swallow another 25 per cent in declines so far in 2019. The bank is now facing class-action lawsuits from investors.

Mr Rehe’s most recent position was as an adviser to Estonia’s Bigbank AS, a job he left in November, according to Postimees, which cited Bigbank’s supervisory board chairman Parvel Pruunsild. The chairman said Mr Rehe’s exit had nothing to do with the Danske scandal.

In his March interview, Mr Rehe said that the checks and controls in place while he was CEO were “sufficient”. He urged the public to await the outcome of multiple investigations into the Danske affair before drawing any conclusions. He also said anti-money-laundering requirements at the time “were significantly different” from those in place today.



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