Nordea is facing more scrutiny on money laundering after a prominent Kremlin critic more than doubled the amount of money from a purported Russian tax fraud that he alleges flowed through accounts at the biggest Nordic bank.
Bill Browder, whose former accountant Sergei Magnitsky uncovered an alleged fraud before being beaten to death in prison, has filed a 15-page complaint to Finnish prosecutors. He asked for a criminal investigation into allegations that $234m from the fraud flowed through 527 Nordea accounts in Finland.
That followed his complaint last week to Swedish prosecutors that $175m from the fraud flowed through 365 Nordea accounts in Sweden, Denmark and Norway. “It basically doubles the size of the Nordea claims,” Mr Browder told the Financial Times.
Nordea said it was “aware” of Mr Browder’s report but had yet to see it so could not comment. It added: “We work closely with the relevant authorities in the countries in which operate . . . and we always co-operate fully and openly. However, our general principle is that we don’t go into detail when it comes to these dialogues.”
It added that it was part of its daily operations to review customer activity and that if it deemed a transaction to be suspicious it reported it to authorities. Nordea also underlined how it had “invested heavily” in recent years to combat money laundering and other financial crimes.
The accusations against Nordea are only the latest in a series of money laundering claims against Nordic banks. In the biggest such case uncovered, Danske Bank has said €200bn of money from Russia and other former Soviet states passed through its small Estonian branch in a nine-year period.
Amid criminal and civil investigations in at least six countries including by the US Department of Justice, Danske’s chief executive resigned and its board’s choice to replace him was blocked by Danish regulators. Mr Browder also filed complaints against Danske in Denmark and Estonia, leading to prosecutors in both countries opening probes against the lender.
Mr Browder filed a previous request to investigate Nordea to Danish authorities in 2013 but was rejected.
Nordea was heavily criticised by Sweden’s financial regulator in 2015 for lax controls. The Swedish Financial Supervisory Authority said there was a high probability that “if people have tried to launder money or finance terrorism, they could have done so without Nordea having been able to detect this”. It was fined SKr50m ($5.6m), the maximum allowed under the law in force at the time.
Other Nordic banks have also been caught up in problems over lax anti-money laundering controls. Handelsbanken, one of Sweden’s four big banks, was fined SKr35m at the same time as Nordea in 2015 after failing to conduct risk assessments for all customers, leading to a high risk it could be used for money laundering.
Swedbank, another big Swedish lender, was warned by Lithuania’s central bank in February about “deficiencies in [its] internal control systems”. All Nordic banks have invested more in compliance and better controls in recent years.
Separately, a prominent Russian oligarch filed a lawsuit in Helsinki district court against four Nordic banks including Nordea and Danske for breaching service agreements. Boris Rotenberg, one of Russia’s leading businessmen who also holds a Finnish passport, is on the US sanctions list but not the EU one. The court declined to comment further.
Nordea did not comment on the figures in either of Mr Browder’s complaints and so the true size and scale of any fraud allegedly flowing through Nordea’s accounts is currently unknown.
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