Wednesday 19 December 2018

Chief of Denmark's largest bank resigns amid €200bn money laundering scandal

  • Danske Bank Borgen resigns over possible money laundering
  • Danske says €200bn flowed through Estonian branch
  • Vast majority of flows were suspicious
  • Bank failed to heed warnings from regulators, whistleblower
  • Shares fall nearly 8pc on bank's report
Thomas Borgen, Danske Bank
Thomas Borgen, Danske Bank

Jan M Olsen

Danske Bank's chief executive Thomas Borgen quit on Wednesday following an investigation into payments totalling some €200bn through its Estonian branch, many of which the Danish bank said were suspicious.

"It is clear that Danske Bank has failed to live up to its responsibility in the case of possible money laundering in Estonia. I deeply regret this," Borgen said in a statement which detailed failings in compliance, communication and controls.

Regulators and the financial community will scrutinise the Danske Bank report, which follows calls by Brussels for a new European Union watchdog to crack down on financial crime following a series of major money laundering scandals.

Danske Bank said its investigation had concluded that Borgen, Chairman Ole Andersen and the board of directors "did not breach their legal obligations towards Danske Bank", adding that it had taken action against some staff.

"We have taken a number of measures against current and former employees ... in the form, among other things, of warnings, dismissals, loss of bonus payments and reporting to the authorities," it added.

Danske Bank's report, which covered around 15,000 customers and 9.5 million payments for the period 2007-2015, said that some 6,200 customers had been examined.

"Overall, we expect a significant part of the payments to be suspicious," Danske said in a statement.

Dutch bank ING this month admitted criminals had been able to launder money through its accounts and agreed to pay €775m to settle the case.

A third of Danske Bank's stock market value has been wiped out in the last six months, driven by concerns over a possible inquiry by U.S. authorities and the penalties this could entail.

"Crucially, Danske say there have been 'no findings of sanctions violations, which is a relief given concerns of an investigation by the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC)," analysts at brokerage Jefferies said in a note.

U.S. authorities earlier this year accused Latvia's ABLV of covering up money laundering and the bank was promptly denied U.S. dollar funding, leading to its collapse.

While Danske does not have a banking licence in the United States, banning U.S. correspondent banks from dealing with it would amount to shutting it out of the global financial network.

WHISTLEBLOWER IGNORED

While Danske said it was not able to provide an accurate estimate of the suspicious transactions through its Estonian branch, it said the non-resident portfolio included customers from Russia, Azerbeijan, Ukraine and other ex-Soviet states.

The report found that the bank failed to take proper action in 2007 when it was criticised by the Estonian regulator and received information from its Danish counterpart that pointed to "criminal activity in its pure form, including money laundering" estimated at "billions of roubles monthly".

When a whistleblower raised problems at the Estonian branch in early 2014 the allegations were not properly investigated and were not shared with the board, Danske said.

And while it took measures to get its Estonian business under control in 2014, these were insufficient.

Danske Bank also said it had decided not to migrate its Baltic banking activities onto its IT platform, because it would have been too expensive. As a result the Estonian branch did not employ Danske's anti-money laundering procedures.

The bank, whose shares fell by early 8pc following the release of the report, also lowered its expectations for annual net profit to 16-17 billion Danish crowns, from a previous range of 18-20 billion.

Reuters

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