British shell companies played a key role in facilitating massive illicit fund flows (IFFs) through accounts operated by the Estonian branch of Denmark’s Danske Bank.

Between 2007 and 2018, some €200 billion (US$222 billion) of suspect funds flowed through the bank, much of it generated in the former Soviet Union.

Most of the payments came from Estonia, Russia, Latvia, Cyprus and Britain. But shell companies were used to disguise the identities of those involved.

Whistleblower’s revelations

Every one of the bank accounts that first aroused whistleblower Howard Wilkinson’s suspicions had their identity hidden behind UK registered entities, including Lantana Trade LLP.

In summer 2013, Danske bank employees discovered that Lantana had filed “false accounts” at the UK’s registry, Companies House.

Contradictory accounts

Lantana’s filing at Companies House, describes it as a “dormant company”, with hardly any financial turnover. But bank records stated that Lantana held large deposits and made daily transactions of millions of euros.

The ultimate owners of Lantana, and related limited partnerships, were Russians. But their identities were hidden behind offshore management firms in the Marshall Islands and the Seychelles.

Other controversial figures who have used British shell companies to move money include disgraced former chairman of Donald Trump’s election campaign, Paul Manafort, and Viktor Yanukovych, the overthrown president of Ukraine, which has charged its former leader of high treason.