ATTORNEY: JEREMY A. LIEBERMAN
POMERANTZ MONITOR JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2019
Pomerantz has formed a coalition to seek redress in Denmark on behalf of investors who lost billions of dollars in the fallout from a €200bn money laundering scandal at Danske Bank A/S (“Danske” or the “Bank”). The coalition consists of the International Securities Associations & Foundations Management Company for Damaged Danske Investors, LLC and Danish law firm, Németh Sigetty Advockater (“Németh Sigetty”). Németh Sigetty has a well-deserved reputation for handling major, complex, and high-stakes disputes against both private party litigants and government authorities and has vast experience with investor group litigations in Denmark.
Danske, Denmark’s largest bank and a major retail bank in Scandinavia and Northern Europe, had until recently enjoyed a reputation as one of Europe’s most respected financial institutions. Last year, Danske’s star swiftly fell, as media reports placed it at the center of one of the world’s largest and most egregious money laundering schemes.
On February 27, 2018, several newspapers revealed that Danske’s upper management had known about an extensive money laundering scheme and falsification of records at Danske’s Estonia branch since December of 2013, but had first concealed the misconduct and then misrepresented the extent of its participation in the money laundering scheme—all while touting Danske’s purported commitment to anti-money laundering policies and practices. The revelations emerged after a whistleblower had informed Danske that relatives of Russian President Vladimir Putin and high-ranking members of Russia’s Federal Security Service (the FSB, formerly the KGB) were behind one of the companies that were laundering money through the Bank’s Estonia branch. An internal audit at Danske had confirmed the accuracy of the whistleblower’s allegations as early as February 2014, and that Danske’s Board of Directors and Executive Board had been made aware of the audit’s conclusions. The Estonia Financial Supervisory Authority (“EFSA”) immediately announced an investigation to determine the Bank’s culpability in knowingly withholding this information during prior EFSA inspections at the Estonia branch in 2014.
On April 5, 2018, Danske announced that Lars Morch, Danske’s Head of Business Banking, would be released from his ordinary work duties “as soon as possible,” but would remain formally employed at the Bank until October 2019. In announcing Morch’s release, Danske’s Board Chairman, Ole Andersen, stated that “the bank should have undertaken more thorough investigations at an earlier point,” which would have “prompted swifter actions.” On May 3, 2018, the Danish Financial Super-isory Authority (“DFSA”) issued its investigative report, which provided additional detail of stonewalling by the Bank’s central management.
On July 3, 2018, it was reported that the alleged money laundering volume at issue was approximately $8.3 billion, much larger than the earlier estimate of $1.5 billion. Two weeks later, Danske announced that it had made an estimated profit as high as $234 million in connection with the suspicious transactions, and that it would forego the illicit profit.
On September 7, 2018, The Wall Street Journal reported that Danske was conducting a probe of transactions subject to money laundering concerns and that the value of the suspicious transactions under review might be as high as $150 billion. Then, on September 19, 2018, Danske issued a report documenting the results of its internal investigation, which confirmed the knowledge and complicity of Danske’s senior management in covering up the money laundering scheme at the Bank’s Estonia branch. The report added key details to previous news reports, and also disclosed that the cash flows through the Estonia branch’s Non-Resident Portfolio were much higher than previous estimates, amounting to approximately $234 billion worth of transactions bearing the suspicious hallmarks of money laundering activity.
Since the initial disclosure of the money laundering scheme and Danske’s management’s role in concealing it, Danske’s stock price has fallen from 250.10 DKK 122.00 DKK at the time of this writing, representing a total loss of more than 86 billion DKK, or nearly $13 billion, in market capitalization. Criminal investigations are currently proceeding against Danske and members of its management in France, Denmark, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Estonia. In November 2018, Danske was formally charged by the Danish Prosecutor for money laundering-related violations.
Generally speaking, Danish group actions proceed on an opt-in basis, in which a group representative is appointed by the court to represent the group’s interest. Under Denmark’s legal regime, the “loser” is typically required to pay the legal costs of the prevailing party. However, Pomerantz has organized to bring a group action in Denmark in which all legal fees and any adverse costs for which an investor could otherwise become liable be borne by litigation funders and/or other parties. This means that there is no downside financial risk for any investor with respect to costs by participating. Pomerantz will work in conjunction with Danish counsel with respect to its clients, overseeing and operating in a supervisory role with respect to their claims.
The process to recover losses requires damaged investors to proactively join an organized litigation “group” which will aggregate each investor’s loss into a collective loss in a single claim and action before the Danish Court. Németh Sigetty will file this group litigation on behalf of eligible investors organized via Pomerantz’s coalition in the second quarter of 2019. Only those investors who are named as participants will be able to benefit from any settlement or judgment.