20 Mar 2020
Sweden’s financial watchdog hit lender Swedbank (SWEDa.ST) with a record fine of 4 billion crowns ($386 million) on Thursday for serious deficiencies in its anti-money-laundering work and said the bank had withheld information from authorities.
Sweden’s oldest retail bank saw its share price collapse by a third last year after details of the dirty money scandal — which also engulfed Danish peer Danske Bank (DANSKE.CO) — emerged at the end of 2018 and through 2019, forcing Swedbank to fire its chief executive and much of its board.
“Swedbank has had serious, systematic shortcomings in its work to prevent money laundering in the Baltics,” FSA Director General Erik Thedeen said at a news conference.
“The investigation also shows that on several occasions, Swedbank has withheld information from the FSA, information that clearly showed how big the problems, in fact, were. We look on that as particularly serious,” he said.
The FSA said Swedbank received several warnings. One external report from 2017 commissioned by Swedbank and obtained by the FSA expressed surprise at the volume of entities and individuals accepted as clients by Swedbank Estonia without any proper identification of the real owners.
“Despite that and many other warnings, the leadership did not take sufficient measures to sort the problem out,” Thedeen said.
Thedeen said the Baltic state’s geographical proximity to Russia, its membership in the European Union and the high number of foreign clients were all factors that should have raised alarm bells.
“By definition, this should have prompted Swedbank to have rigorous systems and controls for its Baltic operations. Our investigation shows that this was not the case,” Thedeen said.
Swedbank acknowledged later on Thursday that it has had shortcomings in anti-money laundering work and disclosure.
“Swedbank has failed to uphold the trust of customers, owners and society. This is troublesome and very serious”, CEO Jens Henriksson said in a statement.
Estonia’s FSA financial watchdog said in a simultaneous statement following their joint investigation that a criminal inquiry in Estonia will now determine whether money laundering had taken place.
Swedbank allegedly processed suspect gross transactions of up to 20 billion euros ($22 billion) a year from mostly Russian non-residents through Estonia from 2010 to 2016.
“The bank’s awareness of the risk of money laundering and its processes, routines and control systems were insufficient,” the FSA said. “The Baltic operations were also lacking adequate resources to combat money laundering.”
By Colm Fulton, Johan Ahlander and Simon Johnson, Reuters, 19 March 2020
Read more at Reuters
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