September 4, 2018 / 8:13 AM / 15 days ago

Dutch bank ING fined $900 million for failing to spot money laundering

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Dutch bank ING Groep NV admitted criminals had been able to launder money through its accounts on Tuesday and agreed to pay 775 million euros ($900 million) to settle the case.

FILE PHOTO: A man walks past the logo of ING Group NV at a branch office in Amsterdam, Netherlands January 9, 2014. REUTERS/Toussaint Kluiters/File photo

“The shortcomings identified resulted in clients having been able to use their bank accounts for money laundering practices for years”, ING said in a statement, after signing one the largest ever such settlements in the Netherlands.

Dutch financial crime prosecutors said ING had violated laws on preventing money laundering and financing terrorism “structurally and for years” by not properly vetting the beneficial owners of client accounts and by not noticing unusual transactions through them.

ING, the Netherlands’ largest financial services provider, said it was impossible to estimate how much money was laundered through its accounts, but lead prosecutor Margreet Frohberg told Reuters “hundreds of millions of euros” were involved.

The fine is not ING’s first for failing to prevent illegal transactions. In 2012 it paid a penalty of $619 million for facilitating billions of dollars worth of payments through the U.S. banking system on behalf of Cuban and Iranian clients.

In the latest case, which had led to questions from regulators in the United States, Dutch prosecutors said they had begun their investigation in 2016 after realizing that a pattern of violations was a signal of deeper underlying problems at ING.

They cited four examples where ING accounts were used for crime, most notably for bribes paid by telecommunications company VEON, formerly VimpelCom, in Uzbekistan. VEON settled U.S. and Dutch charges for $835 million in 2016.

“We had various ongoing criminal investigations and ING bank accounts cropped up repeatedly”, Frohberg said in a telephone interview. “Since 2008, ING was repeatedly warned, but it failed to take sufficient measures to stop the practice.”

UNACCEPTABLE MISTAKES

While ING’s Chief Executive Ralph Hamers said no individual at the bank was found to be responsible for the failures, or had personally benefited, it had taken measures against around 10 employees, varying from dismissals to clawing back bonuses.

“We have made unacceptable mistakes” Hamers told reporters. “This calls for drastic measures, which we have taken.”

Hamers denied any relation between the latest case and the earlier U.S. penalty. “You can’t simply draw a line from that to this”, he said. “Which is not to say that we have done things right here.”

ING has since improved its procedures for admitting and vetting clients, Hamers said, while the executive board has agreed to forgo a bonus for 2018.

Of the settlement, 675 million euros was as a fine and 100 million as the return of illicit gains, prosecutors said.

ING, which expects no further penalties in the case, said it had not taken a provision ahead of the settlement, adding it will book the fine in the third quarter.

“The substantial fine was something that was expected”, KBC Securities analyst Jason Kalamboussis wrote in a note. “With the fine issue behind, ING can look forward.”

Shares in the bank were down 2.2 percent at 11.43 euros at 1310 GMT.

($1 = 0.8618 euros)

Reporting by Toby Sterling, Bart Meijer and Anthony Deutsch; Editing by Himani Sarkar/Mark Potter/Alexander Smith

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