Danske Bank Executive Ensnared in Money-Laundering Scandal Found Dead
The former head of Danske Bank in Estonia, the unit at the center of a $220 billion money-laundering scandal, was found dead after disappearing from his home on Monday.
Aivar Rehe, who was chief executive officer of the branch until he left in 2015, had been reported missing from his home in greater Tallinn. Police had warned that the 56-year-old was a suicide risk.
Rehe’s body was found near his home, the police said in a statement on Wednesday. “This place had been checked earlier by his family. The body has no signs of violence, neither does anything point to an accident.” The police said no more details would be provided, out of courtesy to the family, and there would be no investigation into Rehe’s death.
The case has dominated Estonian media since the former executive disappeared. Rehe, known as a workaholic, joined the bank a year before its 2007 takeover by Danske. He was previously at the Estonian Tax and Customs Board. He wasn’t a suspect in the laundering probe and wasn’t among a group of Estonian bankers detained by police last year.
Valdo Poder, operations chief of the Northern Police Prefecture, told the public broadcaster ERR on Tuesday that Rehe’s “actions, domestic situation, and the information we have gathered from his family” all pointed to the possibility of suicide.
In an emailed comment, Danske Bank said, “We are saddened to learn of the death of Aivar Rehe, the former head of our Estonian branch. Our thoughts are with the family.”
In an interview with local media in March, Rehe said that as the CEO of the Estonian branch, he naturally felt responsible for the affair. 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 U.S. 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 $100 billion in potentially suspicious transactions via its Baltic operations. A picture is emerging of widespread misconduct in which suspicious funds from Russia were channeled 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% in market value, and shareholders have had to swallow another 25% in declines so far in 2019. The bank is now facing class-action lawsuits from investors.
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 Rehe’s exit had nothing to do with the Danske scandal.
In his March interview, 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.