Protection urged for whistleblower in Danish banking scandal

Lawyers for the man who blew the whistle on a massive money laundering scheme through the Estonian branch of Denmark's Danske Bank are calling for measures to protect him.

An Estonian newspaper on Wednesday identified the whistleblower as former Danske Bank employee Howard Wilkinson, who in 2013 warned Danish authorities that billions in dirty money were flowing through the company's accounts, some of it from Russia.

Wilkinson's lawyers on Thursday wrote a letter to law enforcement agencies in Estonia and Denmark saying his identification was illegal and that they should ensure he is not subjected to retaliation. Both countries have signed international accords to support whistleblowers and to protect their identities.

"The disclosure of Mr. Wilkinson's identity violated these Conventions," wrote Stephen Kohn, the lawyer, on behalf of his firm. "Moreover, we fear that Mr. Wilkinson will be subjected to additional retaliation, including from the entities that participated in the massive illegal money laundering schemes."

Danske Bank admitted this month, after an internal investigation, that some 200 billion euros ($235 billion) flowing through its accounts from 2007 to 2015 was suspicious, and its CEO resigned. Some reports allege that family members of Russian President Vladimir Putin were among those who moved money through the bank.

The size of suspicious money flows identified by the bank was so big that Denmark's financial regulator reopened a probe that it had closed in May and the top prosecution authority opened a criminal investigation.

Wilkinson's whereabouts were not immediately clear. The Danish paper Berlingske, which received an email from him after he was named in Estonian media, reports that he is a British citizen who headed Danske Bank's trading unit in the Baltics.

The scandal has raised further questions over the practices of banks in the Baltics, which have long focused on serving "non-resident" clients, mainly in nearby Russia and former Soviet countries.

The U.S. government was so worried about banks in Latvia that this year it blacklisted a major one, ABLV, saying it helped North Korea evade sanctions, "institutionalized money laundering," and paid off local politicians to do so. The head of Latvia's central bank is being investigated for bribery and ABLV has since collapsed.