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Swedbank sacks CEO after money-laundering scandal


AFP Stockholm
Swedish lender Swedbank, which is embattled over allegations of money-laundering in Baltic countries, fired its CEO and suspended trading of the company's shares on the Stockholm stock exchange Thursday.
"The developments during the past days have created an enormous pressure for the bank. Therefore, the board has decided to dismiss Birgitte Bonnesen from her position," chairman Lars Idermark said in a statement.
Chief financial officer Anders Karlsson will serve as acting CEO until a permanent replacement is appointed.
"It's been a dramatic morning. As chairman (of the board of directors) of Swedbank, I regret this deeply," Idermark told shareholders as they gathered for their annual general meeting.
At the same time, Swedbank's share was suspended from trade in Stockholm after losing a quarter of its value since February 18, the day before the money-laundering reports emerged.
It has lost 30 per cent of its value since its peak this year in mid-January.
When trading resumed more than five hours later, the stock's downturn continued. At 5:12 pm (1612 GMT), it was trading down 7.53 per cent.
Shareholders meanwhile voted to discharge the board of liability, but a large majority -- 70 per cent -- voted to not discharge Bonnesen.
According to tabloid Aftonbladet, Bonnesen will receive a golden parachute of 21.5 million kronor (two million euros, USD 2.3 million).
The developments came a day after Sweden's economic crime authorities raided the bank's headquarters outside Stockholm in an insider trading case linked to the money-laundering claims.
Swedbank is suspected of favouring its 15 biggest shareholders by informing them two days in advance of a documentary that was to air on Swedish television claiming the bank was involved in money laundering.
The documentary, made by an investigative news programme for Swedish broadcaster SVT, alleged that at least 40 billion kronor (3.8 billion euros, USD 4.3 billion) of suspicious transactions had been channelled to Baltic countries from Swedbank accounts.
According to SVT, many of the suspicious transactions took place between 2007 and 2015, and some of the money may have first gone via Danske Bank, which is at the centre of a giant money-laundering scandal.
Economic crime authorities have launched a preliminary investigation into Swedbank for insider trading and fraud, but have yet to do so for the money-laundering allegations.
Swedish and Estonian financial supervisory authorities have however said they were probing the money-laundering allegations.
SVT on Tuesday said it had obtained documents showing Swedbank had failed in its efforts to combat money laundering.
An internal Swedbank report obtained by the broadcaster claimed that many of the bank's "high risk customers should never have been approved", and, in some cases, the bank "did not even know who the real owners of the accounts were, nor where the money was coming from." Swedbank said the report was included in an external report it commissioned.
On Wednesday, SVT also claimed Swedbank withheld information from US authorities regarding suspicious customers and transactions in the Panama Papers scandal, in which thousands of clients around the world moved money offshore to protect it from taxes.
Swedish news agency TT said Wednesday the Department of Financial Services in New York, known for slapping heavy fines on banks, had opened an investigation into

"The focus now has to be on restoring confidence," Swedbank's interim CEO Anders Karlsson told shareholders.
Bonnesen is the second bank boss in the Nordics to lose their job over the growing money-laundering scandal.
Danske Bank's then chief executive Thomas Borgen resigned in September 2018 after the bank admitted that a large part of transactions worth some 200 billion euros (USD 235 billion) that had transited its Estonian branch between 2007 and 2015 were "suspicious".

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First Published: Mar 28 2019 | 10:30 PM IST

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