Shares in SEB fell by more than 10 per cent as investors worried the Swedish bank would become the latest lender to be sucked into a money-laundering scandal that has swept through the Nordic financial world.
SEB said it had received questions from SVT, the Swedish public broadcaster whose allegations of suspected money laundering against rival Swedbank sparked a 40 per cent plunge in its share price and subsequently led to the ousting of its chief executive and chairman.
SEB, whose biggest shareholder is the investment vehicle of the Wallenberg family of industrialists, said it had been contacted by the makers of SVT’s investigative unit with claims of “suspected money laundering in the Baltics” and the information “includes SEB”.
The bank said it had received questions from SVT but had “no further knowledge of the content of the programme”. It added that if fresh information came out that had not been known to the bank, it would “take action immediately”.
Nordic banks have been ensnared in a growing money-laundering scandal focused on their activities in the Baltics for the past few years. Danske Bank was the first to be hit, with Denmark’s largest lender disclosing a €200bn money-laundering scandal at its Estonian branch last year.
Swedbank has been criticised by shareholders for poor communications for its own scandal in which SVT published documents showing that about €135bn from “high-risk, non-resident” customers flowed through its Estonian branch over a 10-year period.
SEB, which is the number two bank behind Swedbank in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, said on Friday that it was disclosing the limited information “in order to be transparent”. On Friday morning, its shares were down 14 per cent at SKr79.96, within touching distance of their lowest level in three years.
In a statement, SEB said: “For a long time, SEB has worked hard to ensure that it has adequate routines and processes to prevent money laundering. However, just like any other bank, SEB cannot guarantee that it has not been used, nor that SEB will not be used. New challenges and risks constantly emerge. The development of SEB’s preventive work against money laundering therefore cannot and will not stop.”
Swedbank said last week that its new chief executive, Jens Henriksson, had been interviewed by SVT’s investigative journalists for a programme on suspected money laundering, due to air next Wednesday.
The bank said it had disclosed to SVT that than less than 1 per cent of the bank’s total profit for 2012-18 came from its Baltic non-resident portfolio, made up of customers from outside the region, many of whom were from Russia or other ex-Soviet states.
Swedbank said it had “received information” from SVT, which would be included in its own internal investigation being led by law firm Clifford Chance and which is expected to be ready early next year. It declined to say what the information was, but added that conclusions from the investigation would be made public.