SVT Reports $5.8 Billion in Suspected Money Laundering Between Swedbank and Danske Bank

Sveriges Television (SVT) has reported that after a five-month investigation of transactions between Danske Bank and the Stockholm-based banking Group Swedbank AB during the 2007-2015 period, it found that “50 of Swedbank’s customers that show several risk indicators of suspected money laundering have funneled a total” of US$5.8 billion through Swedbank.

SVT stated that in its review of what it termed “a large quantity of classified documents detailing Danske Bank’s dealings with Swedbank,” it found “a large number of transactions between the banks’ clients between 2007 and 2015.”  It also reported that $26 million of the $5.8 billion is traceable to the 2007 Russian tax fraud that accountant Sergei Magnitsky had been investigating.  According to SVT, the Magnitsky-related funds were transferred “via companies suspected of money laundering” in the Danske Bank scandal.

A Swedbank spokesman stated to SVT “that Swedbank actively monitors transactions, to reveal criminal activity,” and that Swedbank “has identified suspected money laundering and reported the activities to the Swedish Financial Intelligence Unit.”  In his words, “Swedbank have zero tolerance on money laundering and when we see signs, we act.”  Swedish news site The Local reported that the spokesman “would not comment on how many cases of suspected money laundering Swedbank had reported to police during the years in question, but said the bank ‘does not recognize’ the list of customers or amounts referred to by SVT.”

The Local also reported that after the Danske Bank scandal broke last fall, “Swedish banks have claimed they were not open to the same type of laundering, due to a focus on domestic companies and individuals rather than international customers.”   Although Swedbank Chief Executive Officer  Birgitte Bonnesen said the bank has a “completely different approach [from Danske Bank]”, The Local stated that the SVT investigation found “companies without contact information or telephone numbers, many sharing the same UK address. A total of around 300 million kronor was sent by Swedbank customers to 40 companies at one address.”

Immediately after the SVT story became public, the Wall Street Journal reported that Svedbank shares dropped 13 percent yesterday.  In a special call with analysts yesterday to address the report, Swedbank Chief Executive Officer Birgitte Bonnesen said that “the bank conducts in-depth reviews of any suspicious transactions it identifies and, where appropriate, reports them to the financial police.”  Echoing the Swedbank spokesman’s comments, Bonnesen said that “[w]hen we in Swedbank identify suspicious transactions, we take action,” and that we have “zero tolerance.”

The full 59-minute SVT video report is available here (in Swedish, with English subtitles).

Note: Svedbank undoubtedly will now join Scandivania’s largest bank, Nordea, as a focus of intense inquiry for investigators in multiple countries who are scrutinizing the massive volume of suspect transactions connected with Danske Bank.  Svedbank’s situation will not be helped by the fact that Bonnesen’s analyst call left analysts and investors concerned, or that Svedbank previously, according to Bloomberg,

had denied any involvement in the case, with Bonnesen repeatedly going on the record to say management had looked and found no links to the Danske laundering scandal. She said in October [2018] that none of the names mentioned in connection with the recent money-laundering cases “have ever been customers of Swedbank,” then or now.

Unfortunately, Bill Browder, the Hermitage Capital Management co-founder who has leveled accusations against Danske Bank and other financial institutions for their handling of Magnitsky-related transactions, is almost certainly correct in predicting that the amounts of laundered funds reported in Swedish media “are likely to be ‘just the beginning’” of the inquiries into Svedbank.

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