Finnish police on Thursday said they were on the hunt for fraudsters who tricked the country’s foreign ministry into paying about 400,000 euros ($453,500) of overseas aid money into a private bank account.
Detectives in the Nordic country opened a fraud and money-laundering investigation after funds which had been paid in February 2018 to support the development of legal aid systems in Kyrgyzstan were never received by project workers, police told the Finnish news agency STT.
“I can confirm the suspicion of false payments,” a spokeswoman for the foreign ministry told AFP.
“This is not a question of the misuse of programme funds but a suspected outside, professionally-run criminal network,” a ministry statement said.
Investigators believe that criminals managed to intercept emails between the Finnish ministry and its partner in the project, the United Nations Development Programme.
“Someone has managed to come between (Finland and the UNDP), present themselves as the UN organisation and direct the money into the wrong account,” detective chief inspector Antti Perala, of Finland’s National Bureau of Investigation, told STT.
“It then became clear that the bank account belonged to a private individual,” Perala added.
Finnish authorities have since managed to recover “part” of the money, but not all, according to Perala.
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Police have identified three suspects accused of money laundering — sending the stolen funds onwards — but said they have not yet uncovered who is responsible for organising the fraud itself.
Finland allocated 899 million euros to overseas aid in 2018, representing 0.38 per cent of the country’s gross national income (GNI).
The government had slashed Finland’s aid budget in 2015 by over 40 per cent as part of a series of austerity savings