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Swedbank report showed $10 billion 'suspicious' Baltic payments: Swedish TV

Stock MarketsMar 15, 2019 07:52AM ET
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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Swedbank's logo on its Lithuanian headquarters in Vilnius

By Esha Vaish and Johannes Hellstrom

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - An internal Swedbank report in September detailed "suspicious" transactions totaling around $10 billion between customers of Swedbank and Danske Bank in the Baltics from 2007 to 2015, Swedish state television SVT reported.

Swedbank said on Friday the figure reported by SVT was the gross amount of transactions with Denmark's Danske Bank identified in its initial review and it had acted on any suspicious activity, including reporting customers to police.

SVT said the report, which Reuters has not seen, showed a large number of suspicious clients had moved 3.2 billion euros ($3.6 billion) and $6.7 billion between the two banks, more than double the number SVT had previously identified.

Several European and overseas banks have been dragged into the Danske Bank scandal, which centers on suspicious transactions of 200 billion euros that originated in Russia and elsewhere and flowed through its Estonia branch in 2007-2015.

"As we have repeated many times, we act on different signals. Therefore, it was natural for us to act when the disclosures about Danske Bank came out on the market," Swedbank CEO Birgitte Bonnesen said in a statement.

"In the analysis last year, we looked at both current and former customers in the Baltic countries... In many cases, there was no need to act further, but in some cases we proceeded with, among other things, reports to the finance police," she said.

Swedbank shares, which have lost more than 16 percent since an SVT report on Feb. 20 tied it to at least 40 billion Swedish crowns ($4.3 billion) of suspicious transactions with Danske Bank, were down 0.6 percent at 175.05 crowns at 1129 GMT.

FOUR-WAY PROBE

Sweden's Financial Supervisory Authority (FSA) said it had received a report from Swedbank on March 1 about suspected money laundering, which it was including in an ongoing probe.

The regulator, known as FI in Sweden, said in February it was conducting a joint investigation with the Estonian financial watchdog and reaching out to Latvia and Lithuania. On Friday, it said a four-way investigation was now underway.

"The report is one of several data that will be included in the joint investigation conducted by FI with the three Baltic regulatory authorities," it said in a statement.

Danske Bank and the Estonian watchdog declined to comment. Regulators in Lithuania and Latvia could not immediately be reached for comment.

Swedbank is under pressure from some of its biggest shareholders to reveal more about what it knew about the allegations. The bank hired external auditors FRA to look into the original SVT report after investor demands.

"For more meaningful details we'll need to wait for the findings of the FRA report pre-AGM and to see the scope of the Swedish FSA review," said KBW analysts, who have a "market perform" rating and 200 crowns target price on Swedbank.

Ramsay Brufer, head of corporate governance at Alecta, the bank's third largest investor, said he assumed Swedbank had passed the internal report to FRA for its review. Swedbank did not reply to a Reuters' request for comment.

In its statement, Swedbank said its internal report covered an in-depth analysis of about 2,000 customers throughout the Baltic countries.

The bank, which has 900,000 private and 130,000 corporate customers in Estonia, also said that based on last year's transactions flagged by its anti-money laundering systems, it had made four notifications per day to Estonia's finance police.

Swedbank has declined to comment on the data in the original SVT report and a criminal complaint by Bill Browder, an investor who campaigns to expose corruption, saying it cannot comment on details due to Swedish banking secrecy laws.

Swedbank report showed $10 billion 'suspicious' Baltic payments: Swedish TV
 

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M.N. Youshei Mar 16, 2019 4:50PM ET
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