STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – Sweden’s Economic Crime Authority said it will not investigate Swedbank over a criminal complaint alleging money laundering brought by campaigning investor Bill Browder.
FILE PHOTO: Swedbank sign is seen on the building of the bank’s Lithuanian headquarters in Vilnius, Lithuania March 30, 2019. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins/File Photo
Swedbank is embroiled in a fast-growing money laundering scandal involving Danske Bank, which revealed last year that its Estonian branch was used to move 230 billion euros ($258 billion) of suspicious payments between 2007 and 2015.
Browder alleged that Swedbank accounts were used to launder $176 million between 2006 and 2012 and this was linked to money laundering and tax fraud exposed by his former lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in a Russian jail in 2009.
Sweden’s largest bank dismissed its chief executive last week under pressure from already disgruntled shareholders who were spooked by the EBM economic crime agency expanding a separate investigation into Swedbank’s conduct.
Swedbank said it had been informed of EBM’s decision and that it continued to cooperate with all relevant authorities in ongoing investigations.
“We… see that it contributes in providing answers to some of the current questions raised about the bank’s business operations,” said Hans Strandberg, a lawyer at Nordia, which has been retained as external counsel by Swedbank.
Swedbank declined to comment beyond the statement.
EBM said it had dropped Browder’s complaint, which was filed last month, as the limited transfers involving Swedish accounts had occurred before tighter anti-money laundering legislation was introduced in 2014 and as a statute of limitations had expired in the case.
“As Swedish prosecutors we have to look at Swedish situation and transactions or persons within our own jurisdiction. That’s what we’ve done and that’s why we’ve decided not to initiate a criminal investigation,” Henric Fagher, EBM’s Chief Prosecutor in Gothenburg, told Reuters.
Bill Browder said on Twitter he had filed an appeal against the decision, adding that the statute of limitations should be 10 years rather than the five years the prosecutor had said.
Browder, who founded Hermitage Capital and was once the biggest foreign money manager in Russia, has been instrumental in driving authorities to bring cases against Danske Bank.
He did not have any immediate comment on the matter.
Fagher said he was in contact with and ready to assist a European network of prosecutors as most of the transactions were connected to Baltic states, but declined to say whether any of them were looking at bringing charges.
Swedbank, which is also the target of a four-way probe by regulatory authorities in Sweden, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, has lost about a third of its value over worries that it could face lawsuits, fines or sanctions.
Its shares closed up 3.3 percent on Monday.
Reporting by Esha Vaish and Johan Ahlander, editing by Niklas Pollard, Jane Merriman, Jan Harvey and Alexander Smith