Danske Bank charged over alleged violations of money laundering law

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - Denmark's state prosecutor has filed preliminary charges against Danske Bank DANSKE.CO for alleged violations of the country's anti-money laundering act in relation to its Estonian branch.

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The country’s biggest lender was placed under investigation in August over concerns that transactions worth billions of Danish crowns might have been part of criminal money laundering.

Danske Bank is involved in a money laundering scandal at its Estonian branch, involving 200 billion euros ($225 billion) in suspicious transactions between 2007 and 2016.

“We are still working intensively with the investigation,” general prosecutor Morten Niels Jakobsen said in a statement on Wednesday.

The prosecutor will now seek to clarify whether it can pursue criminal charges against Danske Bank or whether individuals can be held responsible, Jakobsen said.

Shares in Danske Bank, which have shed nearly half of their value since March, were largely unaffected by the news, trading 0.7 percent higher at 1618 GMT.

“The possible financial consequences of a fine are relatively small in relation to the damage already inflicted and the risk of U.S. authorities entering the case,” said Nordnet economist Per Hansen.

Investors have already priced in a fine of about 30 billion Danish crowns ($4.5 billion) or more, he said.

As a consequence of the scandal, Danish lawmakers in September agreed to tighten anti-money laundering laws and increase financial penalties by up to 700 percent.

The state prosecutor for serious economic and international crime has brought charges on four counts based on the result of the investigation so far, addressing violations both at the Estonian branch and at the bank’s Copenhagen headquarters.

The charges include the bank having insufficient knowledge about the branch’s non-resident customers, failure to train local staff in how to prevent money laundering and failure to integrate the Estonian branch into the bank’s risk-management and control systems.

“The money laundering case is very serious. It is reasonable and necessary that Danske Bank now be accountable in court,” Danish business minister Rasmus Jarlov wrote on Twitter.

Acting Chief Executive Jesper Nielsen said the bank had expected preliminary charges in connection with a report it presented in September.

Thomas Borgen resigned as chief executive in September when Danske published an internal report on the suspicious money flows through its Estonian branch.

Reporting by Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen; Editing by Keith Weir and David Goodman