The Swedish Economic Crime Authority (Ekobrottsmyndigheten, EBM) said on Wednesday that it was launching a preliminary investigation following reports that 15 of Swedbank’s largest shareholders received information that the bank was connected to a sprawling money laundering scandal before broadcaster SVT broke the news last week.
Meanwhile, SVT yesterday revealed new details about individuals connected to the scandal, including Ukraine’s former president, Viktor Yanukovych, who allegedly used Swedbank to funnel millions out of the country.
According to prosecutors, the former president funnelled the equivalent of SEK 34 million through a Swedbank account. The money was from a suspected bribe and Swedbank was aware of this in 2017, said SVT. Additionally, SEK 170 million has passed through Yanukovych’s company via Swedbank between 2007 and 2013, reports Dagens Nyheter.
Svenska Dagbladet says today that experts at the Swedish Financial Supervisory Authority (Finansinspektionen) were warned about Russia’s Carbo One – which SVT has indicated was involved in the Swedbank money laundering scandal – back in 2017, but the watchdog’s management chose not to take any action.
Dagens Industri (DI) reports this morning, 27 February, that Viveka Strangert, Swedbank’s then director of regulatory compliance, warned the CEO and board in spring 2016 of deficiencies in the bank’s anti-money laundering procedures in the Baltic countries.
The newspaper’s source has said that Birgitte Bonnesen, who was head of the bank’s Baltic operations between 2011 and 2014, was irritated by the news and shortly thereafter fired Strangert.
Gabriel Francke Rodau, head of group communication at Swedbank, has told DI that the termination of Strangert’s employment had nothing to do with money laundering issues.
Ahead of the opening of the 2019 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Ericsson CEO Börje Ekholm told analysts and reporters on Sunday that 5G will become the digital backbone of society in the future.
In light of this, he said, a debate has risen about national security and ways to ensure the integrity of national networks. The CEO, who was unwilling to speak directly about competitors, made clear that security is a matter for politicians. “Ericsson really has no idea about that, it’s not our role. It is up to each country to decide how to design national security policy”. He also insisted that the setbacks facing Huawei and ZTE are not benefiting Ericsson.
Ekholm emphasised that the uncertainty is affecting customers and ongoing concerns in Britain, Germany and France are creating a new problem. “There is a high risk that Europe will lag behind in 5G development”.
Following Swedish TV’s report earlier in the week, linking Swedbank to a money laundering scandal, Dagens Nyheter has reported that Latvia and Lithuania have both identified flaws in the bank’s work to counter money-laundering in recent years. Latvia has fined the bank the equivalent of SEK 13 million over the flaws and in Lithuania the watchdog officially warned Swedbank a year ago.
The bank has since taken measures to improve its procedures; in Latvia it no longer offers accounts to people living overseas and in Lithuania it has, to “99 per cent”, rectified the identified shortcomings.
In Estonia, Swedbank has a dominant position, holding 55 per cent of all deposits from private individuals. The Estonian and Swedish watchdogs have launched investigations in light of Swedish TV’s report, which was based on leaked transaction lists between 2007 and 2015, and their counterparts in Latvia and Lithuania have promised assistance.
Swedbank is launching an external investigation into suspected money laundering after two days of defensive behaviour. Since the news broke, CEO Birgitte Bonnesen had being saying that an external investigator would not be looking into the reports, but on Thursday the bank noted that auditors E&Y would investigate the accusations.
Director of the Financial Supervisory Authority (FSA), Erik Thedéen has called the reports “serious”. “When I saw the programme, it seems as if some of those transactions clearly should have been reported,” he tells TT.
CEO Birgitte Bonnesen said on Wednesday that Bill Browder is not going ahead with plans to file a lawsuit against Swedbank while investors gave the opposite message. “Bill Browder told us yesterday that he is going through his material due to “Uppdrag granskning” and that if he finds anything relevant he will hand it over to the authorities,” says head of communication Gabriel Francke Rodau.
Bill Browder confirmed in an email to DI that he will send documents to the authorities but it is not the same as filing a criminal lawsuit.
On Wednesday, SVT’s “Uppdrag granskning” investigative programme published a report, based on leaked transaction lists from 2007 to 2015, which demonstrates that 50 customers of Swedbank, “all of whom display warning signs of money laundering,” had transferred SEK 40 billion through the bank.
The bank’s share price opened 6 per cent down, before plummeting 14 per cent. Swedbank CEO Birgitte Bonnesen was not only head of the Baltic operations during much of the period, but after the scandal in Danske Banke she has denied that Swedbank has issues with money laundering in the region.
She tells DI that there are occasions on which they ought to have acted more quickly. “But we did act and that is what is really important,” she tells the newspaper.
She says it is difficult for her to comment on the specific material, as she has not seen it, but says, “We have reported as soon as we have seen anything suspicious. We have had processes and procedures to always spot what we see.”
DN reports that the scandal may be linked to Russian money. British-American businessman, Bill Browder, who hired lawyer Sergei Magnitsky to uncover Russian tax fraud, says to DN that this is only the start of the scandal. He describes it as “blood money”.
In a DI interview on Tuesday, Finance Minister Magdalena Andersson (S) said that she wants to increase taxes to balance out the major tax cuts that have been agreed in the January agreement (see 19/2 SPR Early Ed.). She dismissed comments from the Centre Party’s Annie Lööf that the point of the promised tax reform is to lower the tax burden.
Her comments were met with anger by the Centre Party.
“It is clear the finance minister intends to raise taxes, but we can say that there will be no tax increases unless we agree. And when it comes to 3:12 (tax regulations for dividends – ed.) it is not on the cards for us to raises taxes on Swedish business,” says Emil Källström, Centre Party economic policy spokesperson.
The conflict between the Centre Party and the Social Democrats has led the Moderates to reconsider whether it is worth entering negotiations on tax reforms.
In a debate article in Dagens Industri (DI), Kristoffer Tamsons (M) and Tomas Eriksson (Green), write that the blue-green majority in Stockholm has decided to invest in electric buses, calling it “an important investment for the climate”.
This will mean 70 new buses in service by 2021 and in total around 200 electric buses over the next few years with the aim of bringing 700 to 1,500 new electric buses to Stockholm within ten years.
From a climate perspective, changing to electricity is strategically important as it will free up biofuel for other sectors that cannot transfer so easily to electric.
Six and half years have passed since the Swedish authorities began investigating bribery linked to Telia’s establishment in Uzbekistan in 2007. However, when Stockholm district court presented its verdict on Friday, Telia’s former CEO Lars Nyberg, former business area director Tero Kivisaari and another former director were cleared on all counts.
According to the court, the prosecutor has failed to demonstrate that Gulnara Karimova, daughter to the country’s then dictator, could be bribed. The court is also critical of the investigation, which it states in some areas is based on speculation.
Cristina Bergner, Lars Nyberg’s representative, says, “He is, of course, very relieved.”
SJ’s long and middle-distance train punctuality fell from 90 per cent in 2017 to 88 per cent in 2018. The train operator says it was responsible for 10 per cent of delays in 2018, the remainder can be blamed on Sweden’s infrastructure. The heatwave and fires of last summer also caused delays.
CEO Crister Fritzson is now calling for an improvement in the Swedish Transport Administration’s maintenance scheduling ahead of the forthcoming upgrade of the rail infrastructure.
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