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Following a scandal involving money laundering, Estonia orders Danske Bank to close (Published 2019)

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    Business|Estonia Orders Danske Bank Out After Money-Laundering Scandal



    Danske Bank’s branch in Tallinn, Estonia, was the center of suspected money laundering for years, the bank said last year.Credit...Valda Kalnina/EPA, via Shutterstock

    COPENHAGEN — Regulators in Estonia have ordered Danske Bank to leave the country within eight months, arguing that the Danish bank’s $230 billion money-laundering scandal had tarnished the reputation of Estonia’s financial market.

    Danske Bank, which is facing investigations by the United States Department of Justice and other authorities, said it would comply with the order. Additionally, Danske, the largest lender in Denmark, said it would stop offering banking services in Russia, Latvia and Lithuania as part of a previously announced move to focus on its core Nordic market.

    An internal report by Danske revealed in September that the bank had failed for years to prevent suspected money laundering involving thousands of customers at its branch in Tallinn, Estonia. The report prompted Danske’s chief executive and chairman to step down. In December, the police in Estonia arrested 10 former Danske employees on charges that they had been involved in a network of money launderers.

    The scandal “has dealt a serious blow to the transparency, credibility and reputation of the Estonian financial market,” Kilvar Kessler, the chairman of the management board of the Estonian financial regulator, said in a written statement on Tuesday.

    Mr. Kessler also took a swipe at Danish financial regulators for having “handled the bank softly.” The two regulatory bodies have repeatedly blamed each other for not preventing or stopping the alleged fraud sooner.

    The Danish Financial Supervisory Authority declined on Wednesday to respond to Mr. Kessler’s comments, but referred to a statement last month that it had lived up to its responsibility to press Danske Bank about its efforts to prevent money laundering. The agency said “that the bank did not always provide the F.S.A. with accurate information.” The agency has asked Danish lawmakers to increase its powers and staff.

    On Monday, the European Banking Authority said it had begun an investigation into both the Danish and Estonian financial authorities for possible breach of their obligations toward Danske Bank.

    The scandal’s full size is not yet known, but at one point, in 2008, the tiny Estonian branch delivered close to 10 percent of Danske Bank’s annual profit seemingly without attracting scrutiny from the bank’s Danish headquarters.

    Danske Bank, responding to the Estonian order to leave the country, acknowledged that the money laundering case “has had a negative impact on Estonian society.”

    “We are sorry to be leaving Estonia against this background,” the bank said, “but we understand the severity with which the Estonian F.S.A. looks at this case, and we will close down our remaining activities as requested. We will continue our cooperation with the Estonian and other relevant authorities.”

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