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EU banking watchdog clears Estonian, Danish regulators over Danske Bank

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EU banking watchdog clears Estonian, Danish regulators over Danske Bank
FILE PHOTO: Danske Bank sign is seen at the bank's Estonian branch in Tallinn, Estonia August 3, 2018. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins/File Photo   -   Copyright  Ints Kalnins(Reuters)
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By Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) – The European Union banking watchdog said on Wednesday that its investigation into financial regulators in Estonia and Denmark in relation to suspected money laundering activities by Danske Bank did not find any breach of EU law.

Danish and Estonian financial regulators have publicly blamed each other for the Danske Bank money laundering scandal, after Denmark’s largest bank last year admitted that 200 billion euros (£173 billion) of suspicious transactions flowed through its Estonian branch between 2007 and 2015.

The European Banking Authority (EBA) in February said it had opened a formal investigation into a possible breach of EU law by the two regulators.

The investigation did not find any breaches and was closed without issuing a recommendation, the watchdog said in a press release on Wednesday.

The Director General of the Danish FSA Jesper Berg said he was satisfied with the EBA’s decision and was strengthening efforts to curb money laundering and financial crime.

The Estonian FSA also said it would continue its fight against money laundering.

The Danske scandal has reinforced calls by EU lawmakers for stronger European oversight of the union’s banking sector and tighter scrutiny of the often close relationships between regulators and the banks they oversee.

“Even if no laws were formally breached, this still leaves unanswered whether regulators lived up to their responsibility and reacted to any suspicions,” said Jeppe Kofod, a Dane who heads the European Parliament’s Special Committee on Tax Crimes, Tax Evasion and Tax Avoidance.

“Authorities have not been active enough in halting the flows regardless of legislation,” he told Reuters.

The EU Commission pledged to assess the situation and how relevant rules have been applied.

Danish lawmakers have increased penalties for money laundering eight-fold, and the government says it plans to create a “more aggressive financial regulator”.

Adding to the pressure on European lawmakers is an investigation into Swedish lender Swedbank <SWEDa.ST> by Swedish and Baltic financial watchdogs after broadcaster SVT reported it processed gross transactions worth up to 20 billion euros ($22.6 billion) a year from high-risk, non-resident clients, mostly Russians, through its Estonian branch between 2010 and 2016.

Bill Browder, an investor who campaigns to expose corruption, has taken a criminal complaint against Swedbank to Latvian authorities, alleging it was involved in a Russian money laundering scandal.

(Reporting by Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen, additional reporting by Francesco Guarascio in Brussels, editing by Louise Heavens and Alexandra Hudson)

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