Financial news

ABN Amro names new chief executive amid money-laundering probe

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Via Financial Times

Dutch bank ABN Amro has named Robert Swaak its new chief executive, turning to the former chairman of PwC Netherlands to guide it through a criminal investigation into potential money laundering and financing of terrorism.

Mr Swaak, 59, will succeed Kees van Dijkhuizen, who is stepping down from the state-controlled lender in April after three years in charge, the Amsterdam-based bank said in a statement on Thursday.

The top priority during Mr Swaak’s four-year term will be to settle a probe by the Dutch Public Prosecution Service into allegations of money laundering. It alleged in September that ABN failed to carry out sufficient due diligence and monitoring of customers, and failed to report suspicious transactions to the government’s financial intelligence unit.

Last year ABN pledged to spend an extra €220m to tighten its anti-money laundering procedures after a series of scandals at local rivals. It said it had tripled staff in areas such as compliance, financial crime and anti-money laundering to more than 1,400 in five years. The bank has already taken a €25m provision for potential legal liabilities after announcing the probe. 

ABN chairman Tom de Swaan said in Thursday’s statement that “high priority” would be given “to the further implementation of improvement programmes relating to detecting financial crime, promoting public-private co-operation on detecting financial crime, and compliance with the growing number of rules and regulations”.

The bank’s shares rose about 2 per cent following the announcement of Mr Swaak’s appointment, but are down 22 per cent over the past 12 months, underperforming the benchmark regional banking index.

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ABN is still 56 per cent owned by the Dutch government after it was bailed out during the financial crisis. The state has not sold any shares since September 2017 and Mr Swaak will also be tasked with restarting privatisation of the bank.

The appointment comes after an almost seven-month search that started when Mr van Dijkhuizen said in June last year that he would leave when his term finished. A year earlier, Olga Zoutendijk quit as ABN’s chairman after falling out with the government, prompting an investigation by the European Central Bank into the bank’s governance.

Other Dutch lenders have also been embroiled in money-laundering scandals over the past few years. In 2018 ING, the country’s largest lender, received a record €775m fine after compliance failings had allowed companies to launder hundreds of millions of euros and to pay bribes.

In the same year Rabobank paid the US government $369m after it tried to cover up weaknesses in its compliance systems that allowed Mexican drug gangs to launder hundreds of millions of dollars.

Mr Swaak served as chief financial officer, operating officer and management board chairman during his 15 years at PwC Netherlands. He has a masters degree in corporate economics from Erasmus University Rotterdam.

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