Danske Bank says to comply with money laundering probe

In the crosshairs of financial crime investigators (AFP Photo/RAIGO PAJULA)
In the crosshairs of financial crime investigators (AFP Photo/RAIGO PAJULA)

Stockholm (AFP) - Denmark's largest lender Danske Bank on Tuesday said it was complying with Danish prosecutors' investigation into long-standing allegations that it was involved in laundering $8.3 billion through its Estonian branch.

State Prosecutor for Serious Economic and International Crime (SOIK), Morten Niels Jakobsen, said Monday Danske Bank was being investigated and prosecutors would examine whether charges would be pressed.

"Due to the very serious nature and scope of the case, we have followed it for a long time," Jakobsen said in a statement.

He added that the case "has long been highly prioritised" and that "several police reports have been received against Danske Bank in this case."

"We have a good and constructive dialogue on an ongoing basis with the authorities, and we will be at the service of SOIK if it needs further clarification on specific matters," Flemming Pristed, Danske Bank's chief counsel told AFP in an e-mail.

Danske Bank has been at the centre of a financial scandal since Danish daily Berlingske last year claimed that it had been behind the laundering of around $3.9 billion of dirty money from a string of Eastern European countries.

But after receiving bank statements from 20 companies with accounts in Danske Bank's Estonian branch between 2007 and 2015, the paper reported in early July that the real figure was actually more than twice that.

- 'Complex network' -

The bank statements from 20 companies at Danske Bank are linked to a fraud case exposed by the Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who was jailed for revealing high-ranking Russian officials involvement in stealing massive tax payments from several companies, including the investment fund Hermitage Capital.

Magnitsky died in 2009 aged 37 after being held for a year and denied medical care.

Bill Browder, CEO of Hermitage Capital and Magnitsky's former client who was kicked out of Russia for exposing corruption at the largest state owned companies, has spent nine years tracking money laundering in the nation.

He said the money was laundered at Danske Bank's Estonian branch after travelling through "a complex network of sham companies and money laundering banks" in Moldova, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Ukraine.

Danske Bank has acknowledged that its control over the Estonian branch has not been good enough and launched its own investigation into the matter last year. The results were expected in September.

The group finds itself in the company of other major European banks that have been ensnared in massive laundering scandals in recent years including France's BNP Paribas and Germany's Deutsche Bank.