March 7, 2019 / 7:03 AM / in 2 months

Sweden studies Swedbank complaint by anti-corruption investor Browder

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Bill Browder, an investor who campaigns to expose corruption, has filed a criminal complaint with Swedish authorities over Swedbank’s alleged link to a Baltic money laundering scandal involving Danske Bank.

FILE PHOTO: A woman walks past a Swedbank branch in Riga October 21, 2014. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins

Several European and foreign banks have been dragged into the Danske Bank scandal, which centers on suspicious transactions totaling 200 billion euros ($226 billion) originating from Russia and elsewhere that flowed through its Estonian branch between 2007 and 2015.

Swedbank, which said it had not yet seen Browder’s complaint, is already the subject of a joint probe by Swedish and Estonian financial watchdogs after a media report last month tied it to transactions through Denmark’s largest bank.

“In cases where authorities start investigations, we cooperate fully with them and view it positively that these issues are being looked into,” a Swedbank spokesman said.

Danske Bank is being investigated in France, Denmark, Estonia, Britain and the United States. Browder, who founded Hermitage Capital and was once the biggest foreign money manager in Russia, has urged various governments to bring cases.

Browder made the filing against Swedbank with authorities including Swedish prosecutors and police as well as the ministry of finance and the economic crime authority, copies of the complaint dated March 4 seen by Reuters show.

“The next step will be to appoint a prosecutor who will look at this complaint and see if a preliminary investigation should be initiated or not,” a Swedish Economic Crime Authority spokesman said.

Browder’s complaint alleges that about $176 million from Danske Bank’s Estonian branch and Lithuania’s UKIO Bank were wired to Swedbank accounts.

It alleges that this links the Swedish bank to money laundering relating to a tax fraud exposed by Browder’s former lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in a Russian jail in 2009.

Shares in Swedbank, which has around 3.3 million retail customers and around 300,000 corporate clients, were marginally lower at 173.75 Swedish crowns at 0833 GMT.

Its stock has dropped more than 17 percent since Swedish state television SVT said last month there were at least 40 billion Swedish crowns of suspicious transactions between Baltic accounts at Swedbank and Danske Bank between 2007 and 2015.

EXTERNAL INQUIRY

Swedbank has hired external investigators to look into the allegations made by the SVT report.

Its CEO Birgitte Bonnesen has said she has confidence in the bank’s anti money laundering systems and that Swedbank has reported all suspicious transactions identified, although she could not guarantee that nothing had slipped through the net.

Browder told Reuters that his filing was totally independent of the SVT report and that he has not compared data with SVT.

Swedish authorities dropped a separate complaint Browder brought against Nordea, which Finnish broadcaster Yle said this week had handled 700 million euros in suspicious transactions between 2005 and 2017.

FILE PHOTO: Businessman Bill Browder speaks after the coroner ruled that Russian businessman Alexander Perepilichnyy probably died of natural causes outside his home in 2012, after the inquest concluded at the Old Bailey, in London, Britain, December 19, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

Nordea, which last year moved its headquarters out of Sweden, has said it had reported to relevant authorities when it found suspicious behavior.

Browder urged authorities to consider his complaint against Swedbank jointly with his previous filing against Nordea and to create “an international investigation team to conduct an effective investigation” under national and EU laws.

Reporting by Niklas Pollard and Helena Soderpalm and Esha Vaish in Stockholm and John O'Donnell in Frankfurt; Editing by Stephen Coates and Alexander Smith

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