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To Danske Bank and rich Russians, gold still looks like pretty good money
Danske Pitched Gold to Rich Russians Eager to Avoid Attention
By Irina Reznik, Ott Ummelas, and Frances Schwartzkopff
Sunday, November 10, 2019
At the height of the Danske Bank dirty-money scandal, the lender started offering gold bars to wealthy clients to help them keep their fortunes hidden, according to documents seen by Bloomberg.
The bank's Estonian branch, which was already wiring billions of client dollars to offshore accounts, told a select group of customers, mostly from Russia, that they could now also convert their money into gold bars and coins, according to the documents, which date back to the middle of 2012.
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Aside from offering a hedge against risk, Danske pitched gold as a way for clients to achieve "anonymity," according to the documents. It also said that using gold ensured "portability" of assets, according to an internal presentation dated June 2012.
A spokesman for Danske Bank declined to comment. In Danske's September 2018 tell-all report on its non-resident unit, the bank listed the services it provided to clients. Aside from payments, these included setting up foreign-exchange lines, as well as bond and securities trading. The bank didn't list the sale of gold bars.
Danske Bank, which is being investigated across Europe and in the U.S. after failing to screen about $220 billion that gushed through its non-resident unit in Estonia from 2007 to 2015, has now shuttered the operations at the heart of the scandal. That's after local authorities kicked Danske out, as the scope of the affair became clear.
Gold plays a special role in the historic ties between Russia and Estonia, which gained independence after WWI only to be swallowed up by the Soviet Union in 1940. A century ago, communists fresh from the Russian revolution used Estonia as a bridge to channel vast quantities of gold taken from the murdered family of Czar Nicholas II into the West.
In the early 1920s, about 700 tons of Czarist coins dodged a western blockade by passing through Tallinn with the knowledge of the country's leaders, before heading for Scandinavia and the U.K. Today's Russian elite may have used the same path.
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