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Swedbank cuts dividend policy amid money laundering fallout

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Swedbank cuts dividend policy amid money laundering fallout
FILE PHOTO: Swedbank signs are seen on the bank's Latvian head office in Riga, Latvia, April 9, 2019. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins   -   Copyright  INTS KALNINS(Reuters)
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STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – Sweden’s Swedbank <SWEDa.ST> cut its shareholder pay-out policy and set new targets to strengthen its capital position, citing a challenging background and uncertainties stemming from a Baltic money laundering scandal.

The lender said on Wednesday it had decided to reduce its dividend policy to 50% from 75% of annual profit.

“The change occurs against the backdrop of a higher counter-cyclical buffer in Sweden, a defined benefit pension obligation impacted by market rates, continued loan volume growth and the uncertainty regarding the bank’s work on anti-money laundering,” acting CEO Anders Karlsson said in a statement.

Sweden’s oldest retail bank has lost its top executive, chairman and a third of its market value this year after its Estonian business got caught up in money laundering allegations that have also engulfed its rival Danske Bank <DANSKE.CO>.

The most recent allegations against Swedbank, reported by Swedish state TV in March, say its Estonia unit processed gross transactions of up to 20 billion euros (£18 billion) a year from high-risk, mostly Russian non-residents, from 2010 to 2016.

Swedbank has roped in ex-Swedish prime minister Goran Persson as its new chairman to help it navigate investigations from authorities in the United States, the Baltics and Sweden and chart a path to regain public confidence.

It last month suspended two executives of its Estonia unit, a move that followed its admission in April of some failings in its money laundering processes and a promise to launch a comprehensive internal investigation.

The company said on Wednesday shortcomings had been found by the investigation, which was covering its entire business as well as customers, transactions and activity from 2007 through to March 2019 and is expected to conclude during early 2020.

(Reporting by Esha Vaish and Niklas Pollard in Stockholm; editing by Uttaresh.V)

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