• FSA head says he met with CEO to discuss allegations
  • Nordea shareholders seeking independent review of bank

Casper von Koskull, the chief executive officer of Nordea Bank AB, has rejected allegations he misled the public over the extent to which the lender allowed clients to make use of shell companies.

Von Koskull, who took over as CEO in November, was “definitely not lying” when he assured local media that Nordea won’t work with companies doing aggressive tax planning, said Magnus Nelin, a spokesman for the bank in Stockholm. The CEO’s point was that “in exceptional cases, we can accept offshore companies,” he said.

Media, including Swedish broadcaster SVT and the Aftonbladet newspaper, said on Wednesday that a recent transaction in Russia appeared to contradict comments by von Koskull.

Mossack Fonseca

Nordea, Scandinavia’s biggest bank, was summoned by the Swedish Financial Supervisory Authority to talks on Tuesday to explain its appearance on a list of firms allegedly used by clients to evade taxes through Panama-based Mossack Fonseca. Nordea has since said it has severed all ties with the Panamanian firm and that it enforced strict rules at the end of 2009 to prevent the use of shell companies.

The regulator has spoken with von Koskull and is investigating the “serious” media claims made against the bank, said Erik Thedeen, head of the Swedish FSA. The regulatory scrutiny follows Nordea’s breach last year of money laundering rules, triggering a warning and a 50 million-krona ($6 million) fine, which is the maximum administrative amount that can be charged. Back then, the FSA said it found “major deficiencies” in Nordea’s work to prevent money laundering.

“We’re following up on the investigation we carried out last year on money laundering,” Thedeen said on Wednesday. “Today we only know what the media has said, and we have a high activity to get to the bottom on this, we’ve been in contact with our colleagues in Luxembourg on Sunday, I had a short discussion with Nordea’s CEO on Monday and now we continue with a team that has daily contact with Nordea and tries to get to the bottom of this.”

Shareholder Concerns

Nordea’s shareholders are also asking questions. Alecta, the bank’s fourth-biggest owner, is urging Sweden’s regulator and lawmakers to set clearer rules on how banks should handle tax reduction arrangements.

“We have to look into whether we want to be an owner in a company that’s heavily doing tax planning,” Ramsay Brufer, Alecta’s head of corporate governance, said by phone. “From my point of view, it’s the authorities, the Swedish financial inspections, that have to look into if the company is following the laws and regulations. That is what I am concerned about now, and of course the auditors and the internal auditors have to look into this.”

The Swedish Shareholders’ Association is calling for an independent review of Nordea as the allegations pile up.

“We thought this was cleansed out a long time ago, and they committed themselves in 2009 to not have these practices, and now it turns out they have continued,” said Albin Raennar, head of market surveillance at the association. ‘‘Everything that’s legal may not be appropriate to do.”

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