Pension fund freezes investment in Danske Bank over money laundering scandal

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - A large Danish pension fund said on Friday it has temporarily frozen investments in Danske Bank DANSKE.CO, piling further pressure on the bank over its involvement in money laundering in Estonia.

FILE PHOTO: A logo for Denmark's Danske Bank is seen at the SIBOS banking and financial conference in Toronto, Ontario, Canada October 19, 2017. REUTERS/Chris Helgren

The scandal facing Danske Bank has intensified this month after Denmark’s business minister said a newspaper report that Danske laundered up to $8.3 billion -- more than twice the amount previously reported -- through its Estonian branch could prompt the country’s financial watchdog to open a new investigation.

MP Pension, which holds shares in Danske Bank worth around 570 million Danish crowns ($89 million), said the bank’s actions in Estonia collide with its responsible investing policy. As a result, it will no longer buy or sell any Danske shares.

The move by MP Pension comes after David Helgason, an Icelandic entrepreneur and co-founder of one of Denmark’s biggest recent start-ups, Unity Technologies, last week pulled his accounts from Danske Bank, stating that he was “disgusted” by its activities in Estonia.

Danske Bank has admitted to flaws in its anti money-laundering controls in Estonia and launched its own investigation into the case.

“We have a good and ongoing dialogue with our various investors about our current investigations into the closed portfolio of foreign customers in Estonia,” a Danske Bank spokesman said on Friday.

“Our ambition is to ensure that we thoroughly investigate the case in Estonia and that as soon as possible we can share the conclusions with both investors and the rest of our stakeholders,” he added, declining to comment on actions taken by individual shareholders.

The bank is due to present its own findings in September but Denmark’s business minister has said the bank’s own investigation might not be enough.

MP Pension, the 10th largest pension fund in Denmark with 115 billion crowns under asset management, said it has been in talks with the bank’s top management and would await the results of the bank’s investigation.

The developments come just a day after fund manager and Kremlin critic Bill Browder filed a criminal complaint against Danske Bank.

Browder, who leads a campaign against Russian officials he blames for the 2009 death of his Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky while investigating fraud, claims Danske Bank helped Russian citizens launder money.

The bank’s positive ‘A/A-1’ credit rating outlook could also suffer from money laundering allegations, the S&P credit rating agency said Friday.

“Although unlikely, we could revise the outlook to negative or even lower the issuer credit rating if Danske Bank comes under significant market pressure,” the agency said.

It added that “new developments in the case could affect the bank’s reputation, capital, and funding.”

Shares in Danske Bank have fallen nearly 25 percent in the last four months. They were trading 0.6 percent lower at 193.95 crowns each at 1505 GMT, near their lowest since September 2016.

Reporting by Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle