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By Esha Vaish
STOCKHOLM - Swedbank has suspended with immediate effect the two most senior executives of its Estonian business, which is being investigated over alleged money laundering.
Sweden's oldest retail bank has already parted ways with its chief executive and chairman this year after alleged links to a money laundering scandal at Danske Bank, and is being investigated in the United States, Sweden and the Baltics.
The most recent allegations, reported by Swedish state TV in March, said that Swedbank processed gross transactions of up to 20 billion euros a year from high-risk, mostly Russian non-resident clients, through Estonia from 2010 to 2016.
Although Swedbank initially denied the allegations, which first related to between 2007 and 2015, mounting shareholder pressure for transparency led to the bank's admission in April to failings in combating money laundering and an internal inquiry into compliance with anti-money laundering rules.
Robert Kitt, who has been Estonia CEO since 2015, and Vaiko Tammevali, Estonia CFO since 2014, had both been suspended, Swedbank said in a statement late on Monday.
"(The) decision is a consequence of the ongoing internal investigation," Charlotte Elsnitz, Swedbank's head of Baltic Banking, told journalists at a news conference on Tuesday.
Elsnitz declined to give any details about the reason for the suspensions, but said Swedbank remained committed to Estonia, where it is the largest bank with more than 900,000 private and 132,000 business customers.
Kitt and Tammevali, both Estonian, have worked at the bank for more than 15 years. Kitt's previous jobs include heading the wealth management and corporate banking units, while Tammevali's included leading the private banking and credit risk units.
"It has been a fantastic journey. Fiercely tense, frantically interesting, with fantastic colleagues and a team. But every race is running out of time and my mandate in Swedbank Estonia as (Head of Unit) ended today," Estonian media quoted Kitt as saying in a statement posted on Facebook.
Reuters could not immediately independently verify the statement, which was confirmed by a Swedbank spokeswoman, while Kitt did not respond to requests for comment.
Tammevali could not immediately be reached.
Credit Suisse analysts said that the suspensions could help Swedbank in any discussions with authorities.
The Estonian financial regulator declined to comment and said that their investigation with Sweden and other Baltic authorities was ongoing, while Swedbank said it was cooperating fully with authorities.
Swedbank said Olavi Lepp, its chief risk officer, had been named acting CEO of Swedbank Estonia, while Anna Kouts, its head of treasury, would become acting CFO in the Baltic country.
The bank's shares, which have lost about a third in value since the scandal broke, were down 1.6 percent at 138.35 Swedish crowns at 0930 GMT. ($1 = 0.8898 euros)
(Reporting by Johannes Hellstrom and Esha Vaish, editing by Deepa Babington/Keith Weir/Alexander Smith)