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"We were naive" about financial transfers, says Nordea boss

Nordea Bank says it is taking recent money laundering suspicions very seriously after a massive data leak revealed that it had received money from shady sources.

Casper von Koskull
Casper von Koskull Image: Yle

Following reporting about hundreds of millions of euros of partly dubious origin transferred to Nordea by a group of Russian businessmen, the firm’s group chief said that the organisation is taking concerns about potential money laundering very seriously and with humility.

Nordea Bank president and CEO Casper von Koskull said on Yle’s A-studio discussion programme on Monday evening that the financial services group had underestimated the complexity of the transactions and had also been naive about them.

However von Koskull defended the institution, saying that matters had progressed significantly since the transfers were made and that Nordea is a very different bank today than it had been a few years ago.

On Monday, Yle reported on a major data leak, according to which some 700 million euros – some of it originating from dubious transfers – ended up in the banking group’s accounts and that 200 million was transferred to accounts in Finland.

The data leak revealed a number of irregularities about the origin of the cash and suggested that some of the transfers were attempts to conceal funds acquired by way of criminal activity – in other words, there were indications of money laundering risk factors.

The scheme was allegedly created by a group of Russian businessmen, some of whom are members of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s close inner circle.

The data suggested that some of Nordea’s customers ran operations that bore the hallmarks of money laundering. For example the client list included companies with proxies or ghost directors, irregular money transfers and which had no real business activity to speak of.

Current legislation requires banks to know their customers, understand their business and its background and to follow their operations constantly.

"Nothing new" in revelations

Speaking on A-studio, von Koskull said that the data presented on Monday did not offer any new information.

"We have reviewed with the Danish authorities those transactions where suspicions were reported and we are still reviewing them," the group chief said.

He added that the bank had stopped doing business with customers, whose operations raised suspicions, referring specifically to material that emerged between 2004 and 2015.

Von Koskull was asked if the financial conglomerate had received any new information about the claims and why Nordea declined the opportunity to comment on the findings, which involved its operations up to 2017.

"We have commented in writing," he responded. However he would not comment on the recent MOT findings, adding that things had changed within the institution.

He said that over the past three to four years, Nordea had increased the resources used to investigate possible money laundering tenfold.

"Today roughly 1,500 people – five percent of our personnel – are devoted to these matters. We have invested nearly half a million euros in this area to improve the level."

However he admitted that criminals are often a few steps ahead and that anti-money laundering efforts are never adequate. He also called for better cooperation among financial institutions as well as for the establishment some kind of EU-level international agency to prevent money laundering.

"This is a global issue," he declared.

Yle’s investigative journalism programme MOT as well as 20 other international media organisations reviewed the data leak, which included material from 2005 to 2017.

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