Danske Bank money laundering ‘giga scandal’ spreads to Britain

British and Russian entities dominate a list of accounts used to make €200 billion ($236 billion) in payments through Danske Bank’s branch in Estonia between 2007 and 2015. (Reuters)
Updated 21 September 2018
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Danske Bank money laundering ‘giga scandal’ spreads to Britain

  • By 2013, the number of UK-registered customers in the branch’s non-resident portfolio had topped 1,000
  • Danske Bank Chairman Ole Andersen said that the lender had made an assessment of whether it violated any US laws
LONDON/COPENHAGEN: Danske Bank’s money laundering scandal spread on Friday as Britain’s National Crime Agency (NCA) said it is investigating the use of UK-registered companies.
“This is a giga scandal,” European Union Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said, joining a growing chorus of calls for a clampdown on the billions of euros which are alleged to have been “washed” through European banks.
An NCA spokeswoman said the British agency was working with partners across government to restrict the ability of criminals to use UK-registered companies in money laundering.
British and Russian entities dominate a list of accounts used to make €200 billion ($236 billion) in payments through Danske Bank’s branch in Estonia between 2007 and 2015, many of which the bank said this week are suspicious.
By 2013, the number of UK-registered customers in the branch’s non-resident portfolio had topped 1,000, Danske Bank’s investigation revealed, ahead of clients from Russia, the British Virgin Islands and Finland.
As the scope of the alleged money laundering through Danske Bank has widened, investor concerns over the potential penalties it could face have increased, with particular focus on what action if any US authorities might take against the bank.
So far, the US has not said whether it is investigating, although Danske Bank Chairman Ole Andersen said that the lender had made an assessment of whether it violated any US laws. He has declined to share the bank’s conclusion of this.
“We need to do more to prevent money laundering from happening,” Vestager told reporters in Copenhagen following the resignation on Wednesday of Danske Bank CEO Thomas Borgen after an investigation commissioned by the bank exposed past control and compliance failings.
Borgen, 54, was in charge of Danske Bank’s international operations including Estonia between 2009 and 2012.
He said on Wednesday that he had been “personally cleared from a legal point of view” while Danske said its board had not breached their legal obligations.
The European Commission last week recommended banking supervision changes, including bolstering national authorities, but stopped short of setting up a new financial crime agency called for by the European Central Bank.
In a sign of the growing pressure on Danske Bank, which already faces criminal inquiries in Denmark and Estonia, the chief executive of CARE Danmark said on Twitter that the Danish charity had decided to end its relationship with the lender.
International aid charity Oxfam also called on Danish municipalities to cut ties with the bank, saying it has not been able to re-establish the trust of Danish citizens.
The mayor of Aalborg, Denmark’s third largest municipality, said he would discuss its partnership with Danske Bank at the next municipality committee meeting, but noted that there were only two banks in Denmark would be able to handle a municipality its size.
“Danske Bank has been involved in money laundering which is deeply reprehensible and outrageous but Nordea has been involved in tax havens, so the entire bank sector needs to clean up for us to have a trusting collaboration with the banks,” Thomas Kastrup-Larsen said.
Danske Bank’s tiny Estonian branch accounted for as much as 10 percent of group profit during the period when suspected money laundering was conducted via its operations there.


No need for more talks over draft budget: Lebanon finance minister

Updated 21 May 2019
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No need for more talks over draft budget: Lebanon finance minister

  • Lebanon’s proposed austerity budget may please international lenders but it could enrage sectors of society
  • Lebanon has one of the world’s heaviest public debt burdens at 150 percent of GDP

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s finance minister said on Tuesday there was no need for more talks over the 2019 draft budget, seen as a vital test of the government’s will to reform, although the foreign minister signalled the debate may go on.
The cabinet says the budget will reduce the deficit to 7.6% of gross domestic product (GDP) from last year’s 11.2%. Lebanon has one of the world’s heaviest public debt burdens at 150% of GDP.
“There is no longer need for too much talking or anything that calls for delay. I have presented all the numbers in their final form,” Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil said.
But Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil suggested the debate may go on, telling reporters: “The budget is done when it’s done.”
While Lebanon has dragged its feet on reforms for years, its sectarian leaders appear more serious this time, warning of a catastrophe if there is no serious action. Their plans have triggered protests and strikes by state workers and army retirees worried about their pensions.
President Michel Aoun on Tuesday repeated his call for Lebanese to sacrifice “a little“: “(If) we want to hold onto all privileges without sacrifice, we will lose them all.”
“We import from abroad, we don’t produce anything ... So what we did was necessary and the citizens won’t realize its importance until after they feel its positive results soon,” Aoun said, noting Lebanon’s $80 billion debt mountain.
A draft of the budget seen by Reuters included a three-year freeze on all forms of hiring and a cap on bonus and overtime benefits.
It also includes a 2% levy on imports including refined oil products and excluding medicine and primary inputs for agriculture and industry, said Youssef Finianos, minister of public works and transport.
“DEVIL IN THE DETAIL“
Marwan Mikhael, head of research at Blominvest Bank, said investors would welcome the additional efforts in the latest draft to cut the deficit.
“There will be some who claim it is not good because they were hit by the decline in spending or increased taxes, but it should be well viewed by the international community,” he said.
Jason Tuvey, senior emerging markets economist at Capital Economics, said: “The numbers will be of some comfort to investors, but the devil will be in the detail.”
“Even if the authorities do manage to rein in the deficit, it probably won’t be enough to stabilize the debt ratio and some form of restructuring looks increasingly likely over the next couple of years,” Tuvey said.
The government said in January it was committed to paying all maturing debt and interest payments on the predetermined dates.
Lebanon’s main expenses are a bloated public sector, interest payments on public debt and transfers to the loss-making power generator, for which a reform plan was approved in April. The state is riddled with corruption and waste.
Serious reforms should help Lebanon tap into some $11 billion of project financing pledged at a Paris donors’ conference last year.
Once approved by cabinet, the draft budget must be debated and passed by parliament. While no specific timetable is in place for those steps, Aoun has previously said he wants the budget approved by parliament by the end of May.
On Monday, veterans fearing cuts to their pensions and benefits burned tires outside the parliament building where the cabinet met. Police used water cannon to drive them back.