By Dominic Chopping and Patricia Kowsmann 

STOCKHOLM -- An executive who led the bank branch at the center of a $230 billion money-laundering scandal in Estonia has been found dead in a suspected suicide.

Aivar Rehe, the 56-year-old former chief executive of Danske Bank's Estonia branch, had been missing since Monday morning when he left his home in Tallinn on foot. His family raised an alarm and search teams had been looking for him since.

Danske is being investigated by authorities in the U.S., Estonia, Denmark and France for allegedly facilitating the laundering of about $230 billion by non-Estonians -- primarily Russians -- through its branch in Tallinn between 2007 and 2015. Despite being warned of possible wrongdoing at the branch for years, including by a whistleblower in 2014, the bank only disclosed the problems in 2017 under pressure from news reports.

The bank has acknowledged it reacted "too late and slowly."

Several officers who worked in both the branch and the Danish headquarters of Danske Bank have been named as suspects in separate investigations in Estonia and Denmark. Estonia's prosecutors' office said Mr. Rehe wasn't a suspect in its continuing criminal investigation.

Estonian Police and Border Guard Board spokeswoman Tuuli Härson said Mr. Rehe's body was found Wednesday morning close to his home.

"There are no signs of violence on the body, and there is no indication of an accident," a police statement said. The case is being treated as suicide, a person familiar with the investigation said.

Mr. Rehe headed the Danish bank's branch in Estonia between 2006 and 2015.

In an interview with Estonian newspaper Postimees in March, Mr. Rehe said he believed the bank had proper money-laundering controls and checks in place.

Asked if he felt any responsibility, he added: "Of course I feel. Naturally. I have led the bank [for] 10 years, these were my people. All the 500 people, naturally."

Danske Bank said, "We are saddened to learn of the death of Aivar Rehe, the former head of our Estonian branch."

The scandal has erased more than 60% of the stock-market value of Denmark's largest bank and forced the resignation of its star chief executive last year. It has also tarred the reputation of the country, often ranked among the world's most transparent.

Transfer of illicit money out of Russia particularly through countries in the Baltic region into Europe has been of particular concern to U.S. authorities, given part of the laundered money often ends up in the U.S.

The Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission are investigating Danske's money-laundering allegations following a complaint made by the whistleblower years ago that also identified Deutsche Bank AG, which is supervised by U.S. regulators, for processing U.S. dollar transactions for Danske's Estonian branch as a correspondent bank.

On Wednesday, Frankfurt prosecutors searched Deutsche Bank's headquarters in Germany for Danske-related documents.

"Deutsche Bank has comprehensively examined the facts of the matter and has voluntarily provided the requested documents as far as possible," the bank said.

Maris Hellrand in Tallinn, Estonia, contributed to this article.

Write to Dominic Chopping at dominic.chopping@wsj.com and Patricia Kowsmann at patricia.kowsmann@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

September 25, 2019 11:23 ET (15:23 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2019 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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