By Teis Jensen and Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen
COPENHAGEN (Reuters) – Danske Bank’s <DANSKE.CO> largest shareholder, the Maersk family, has ousted the lender’s chairman after a money laundering scandal that has also forced out its chief executive.
A.P. Moller Holding, which controls about 21 percent of the share capital in the bank, has nominated Karsten Dybvad, who currently heads the Confederation of Danish Industry, to replace Ole Andersen as chairman of Denmark’s largest bank.
The move is a rare example of Denmark’s Maersk family, which controls shipping giant A.P. Moller-Maersk <MAERSKb.CO> through A.P. Moller Holding, openly flexing its muscles to seek change at one of its investments.
“We make this move because we think that Danske’s board has not reacted swiftly enough to find a replacement for the current chairman,” said Robert Uggla, CEO of A.P. Moller Holding.
Andersen, who was appointed chairman seven years ago, has agreed to step down from the board at an extraordinary general meeting to be held within two weeks.
“I share the perception of the need for a new board, and as I have previously announced I also believe it is right for me to leave the chairmanship to new forces,” Andersen said in a statement.
The change follows a scandal that involved 200 billion euros (174.36 billion pounds) in payments through Danske’s Estonian branch between 2007 and 2015, many of which the bank has said it thinks are suspicious.
Danske is the subject of criminal investigations in Denmark, Estonia and the United States and could face sizeable fines.
“Denmark needs a big bank with activities across the Nordic region,” Uggla said on a conference call. “The bank is essential for Denmark’s financial system and infrastructure and offers important services for many Danish businesses, investors and start-ups.”
A new chairman is needed “to strengthen the bank’s ability to address its culture, compliance programme and engagement with regulators”, he added.
The Maersk-family – a major shareholder in Danske Bank since 1928 – has about $20 billion under management through its holding company.
Danske Bank Chief Executive Thomas Borgen quit in September when the group published its report into the transactions.
Turmoil at the bank deepened the following month when Jacob Aarup-Andersen, the board’s choice to take over as chief executive, was rejected by the country’s financial regulator because of a lack of experience.
Uggla said the nomination of Dybvad is backed by the board and major shareholders, such as Danish pension funds PFA and ATP, and will enable the board to finalise its search for a new CEO. He declined to give specifics on timing or potential candidates.
Dybvad, meanwhile, told Reuters: “Danske bank is the central and most fundamental financial institution in Denmark. It’s essential that it continues to develop and that it holds public trust.”
Apart from his role as head of an industry lobby group, Dybvad is chairman of Copenhagen Business School and has previously worked in government positions and at pension funds.
“Dybvad is known for his integrity, and many of those I have been in contact with speak about his moral compass. He is also known for his strong social commitment,” Uggla said.
A.P. Moller Holding also nominated Jan Nielsen, who is chief investment officer in the holding company and a member of the board at toymaker LEGO, as vice-chairman of Danske Bank.
Danske Bank shares, which have shed nearly half their value since March, were 0.2 percent down at Tuesday’s close.
(Reporting by Teis Jensen; Editing by Keith Weir and David Goodman)