By Graham Barrow, money-laundering expert

IT was the headline figure that caught all our eyes. Last month we learned some €200 billion worth of suspicious transactions had flowed through Danske Bank Estonia (DBE).

Reports have linked some of this money to Russia’s secret service and even the family of President Vladimir Putin.

In 2013 alone, the total flow through DBE accounts held by people who did not live in Estonia amounted to some €32bn when the Baltic nation’s total GDP that year was only just over €25bn. You’d think someone would have noticed cash flows on this scale.

The trouble with these huge sums is that they are hard to comprehend so I want to highlight some of the detail, especially as it relates to us here in Britain.

The Danske story was originally broken when a whistleblower leaked information to Denmark’s Berlingske. The paper asked me to review 5,000 pages of bank statements to see if they showed evidence of money laundering.

I decided to focus on a kind of British corporate entity, the limited liability partnership (LLP). A major report into Dansk Bank cited the whistleblower as saying LLPs were “the preferred vehicle for non-resident clients”.

Along with Scottish Limited Partnerships or SLPs (about which more on those later), LLPs were fundamental to money laundering schemes run out of Russia and Azerbaijan. So LLPs by their very presence at DBE aroused suspicion. The details tells an even more striking story.

Across the six bank accounts I reviewed, I identified transactions involving 29 LLPs. Of these, 18 were registered to the same address and all but one of those were formed by the same two “designated members” (a couple of now-infamous companies operating out of Belize). Some were actually formed on the same day.

So you would have the comical situation of one LLP paying money to a second LLP which would send it on to a third LLP, all of them formed around the same time, registered to the same address and run by the same people. And somehow that wasn’t deemed to be suspicious (or no one looked closely enough to find out).

This all started to change when the whistleblower checked the account filings at Companies House for one of the LLPs (which was allegedly associated with the Putin family) and discovered, to his surprise, that they were filing dormant accounts, in marked contrast to the millions which he could see flowing through their account on a daily basis.

The rest is now history – though history which may repeat itself. The growth in new customers taken on by DBE between 2007 and 2015 bears a remarkable similarity to the growth of new LLP registrations in the UK. And when Danske brought a halt to proceedings in Estonia in 2015, this was matched by a noticeable falling off of new LLPs in Britain.

But that’s not the end of the story.

In 2007 when this all started, there were few if any SLPs opening accounts in Estonia. Over time this number started to grow so that, by the time of the Russian and Azerbaijani laundromats they were becoming increasingly common.

However, when the laundering in Estonia stopped and UK LLP registrations levelled off, the same thing did not happen with SLPs.

If anything they started being registered in ever larger numbers.

Which begs the question, who banks all these new SLPs and where? Is there another DBE scandal waiting in the wings in some other bank in some other country? If there is, it won’t be LLPs at the heart of the story. It will be SLPs.