As published on reuters.com, Wednesday November 27, 2019.
(Reuters) - SEB (SEBa.ST) said it saw no need for further action after a Swedish Television (SVT) report on Wednesday said accounts at the bank had links to suspected money laundering in Estonia.
“The program showed us nothing new which we need to act on today,” SEB Chief Executive Johan Torgeby told Reuters after SVT reported that an SEB client list contained “red flags” - names associated with well-known proxies for Russian non-resident companies suspected of money laundering.
SVT said its report was based on a cache of leaked information provided by the Organized Crime and Corruption Project investigative reporting consortium.
SEB had managed to stay clear of a long-running Baltic money scandal which has hit rivals Swedbank and Danske Bank. But its shares fell 13% on Nov. 15 after it said SVT had contacted it about the report.
SVT’s report said transactions through 194 SEB accounts included around 475 million Swedish crowns ($49 million) connected to the so-called Magnitsky affair.
Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky was arrested in 2008 after accusing Russian officials of large-scale tax fraud. He died in a Moscow prison in 2009 after complaining of mistreatment.
Torgeby denied any link between SEB and Magnitsky, saying there was a “huge discrepancy” with what SVT had reported. SEB reported previously that it had closed 95% of the accounts.
“We have not seen any evidence that any of the 179 companies on a sanctions list for their connection to the Magnitsky affair have ever been a client of SEB,” Torgeby said.
On whether SEB could be linked to any proxies related to the Magnitsky affair, spokesman Frank Hojem said: “We haven’t seen SVT’s analysis, but we think any connection is weak.”
SEB had said on Tuesday before SVT’s report that it had processed close to 26 billion euros ($29 billion) from non-resident Estonian customers between 2005 and 2018 that would not meet its current standards of transparency.
Torgeby said SEB had “not been used for money laundering in a systematic way”.
SEB’s largest shareholder said it was happy with the way the questions were being addressed.
“We have confidence in the way the bank and its management is working with these issues. We also think its good that the bank is being as transparent as it is,” Viveka Hirdman-Ryrberg, a spokeswoman for Investor AB told Reuters.
SEB shares, which closed on Tuesday almost 8% lower since the start of 2019, were up 3.3% by 0944 GMT on Wednesday. Before SEB’s Nov. 15 statement, they were trading up over 7%.
Danske Equities analyst Andreas Hakansson said that SEB’s compliance costs could rise if U.S authorities get involved.
“That does not have to lead to fines, but the risk is that SEB needs to spend resources on getting the answers to those questions and this can lead to cost inflation,” he told Reuters.
Sweden’s financial watchdog said an investigation into SEB was ongoing and it had no comment.
Swedbank (SWEDa.ST) has lost around 40% of its market value since allegations surfaced that its Estonian branch processed suspect gross transactions of up to 20 billion euros a year from mostly Russian non-residents between 2010 and 2016.
The Baltic money-laundering scandal began with Danske Bank, which in September 2018 detailed compliance and control failings.
Denmark’s biggest bank is under investigation in several countries over 200 billion euros ($220 billion) in suspicious payments through its Estonian branch between 2007 and 2015.