Stockholm (Ekonamik) – “We still have confidence in our CEO and her ability to lead and manage the bank’s work against money laundering,” read the mid-March press release from Lars Idermark, the now-former chairman of the board of directors at Swedbank. That confidence was not to last: a week later, on March 28, the board forced Swedbank CEO Birgitte Bonnesen to step down. That month, the bank was raided by authorities and was revealed to have purportedly participated in laundering approximately €135 billion in questionable funds from Russia and other ex-Soviet countries through its Estonian branch. These dramatic events were not the last fallout of a money-laundering scandal whose tentacles have enveloped the Nordic banking industry.
The general perception of Nordic financial institutions as a bulwark against corruption has certainly taken a beating. “We need to focus on rebuilding trust,” Anders Karlsson, Swedbank’s CFO said. Quite. But the Swedbank scandal looks more like one link in a chain reaction rattling the entire industry than an – even geographically – isolated incident. The Swedbank events mirror a preceding scandal at Danske Bank almost perfectly, with both banks alleged to have been involved in a scheme systematically allowing oligarchs and criminals from Russia to move money through their Baltic branches and into the Western financial system. The €200 billion worth of money laundering discovered in Danske’s Baltic operations similarly forced the resignation of Danske CEO Thomas Borgen. Both Mr Borgen and Ms Bonnesen had reached the top of their profession in part thanks to the healthy profits from the banks’ respective Estonian branches.
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