As you know, we are deep in awards season. (Is anyone else baffled by the all-conquering success of “The Favourite”? I like Olivia Colman as much as anyone, and the film is certainly entertaining and lovely to look at, but the best film ever? Perhaps it’s clever nominative determinism at work.) But one award that the nominees probably hope they don’t carry off is “Corrupt Actor of the Year”, decided not by Tinseltown luvvies but by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP). And on 29 December the OCCRP announced that its Corrupt Actor of the Year for 2018 is *pause for suspenseful opening of golden envelope* Danske Bank.
If you thought you had a tough time in 2018 (what with keeping Trump and Brexit while losing Aretha Franklin and Stephen Hawking), at least you weren’t in charge of Danske. At the end of 2017 the bank was fined 12.5 million Danish krone [about £1.5 million] for AML failings. And then things got serious. In mid 2018 Danish and Estonian prosecutors launched criminal investigations into the bank on the back of allegations by Bill Browder. In September 2018 the bank published a report put together by leading Danish law firm Bruun & Hjejle, which revealed that that payments – many of them suspicious – totalling 200 billion euros had flowed through Danske’s Estonian branch between 2007-2015. Thomas Borgen – the chap in charge of Danske Bank’s international operations, including Estonia, between 2009 and 2012 – resigned. On 4 October 2018 Danske confirmed that the US Department of Justice had launched a criminal investigation into its Estonian branch, where many non-resident accounts were held by entities or individuals in Russia which were subject to US sanctions. The bank’s chosen successor CEO was rejected by their regulator as being too inexperienced – the search continues, if you’re interested. And on 19 November 2018 Danske whistle-blower Howard Wilkinson (head of the bank’s Baltic trading unit, who warned his directors back in 2013 but was ignored) gave evidence to the Danish parliament.
As the OCCRP website explains, this award “spotlights the individual or institution that has done the most over the previous 12 months to advance organized criminal activity and corruption in the world”. According to the judges, Danske beat out the other twenty-two contenders – who included nice guys Donald Trump and Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – because “in the past 20 years, they’ve globalized organized crime and autocracy and helped everyone from Mexican drug cartels to Russian President Vladimir Putin to terrorists, autocrats, and almost every global threat”.
The final words should perhaps go to South African anti-corruption activist Hennie van Vuuren, one of the judges: “It’s high time that we focus on the enablers and not just the low-hanging offensive political fruit. Nothing shows up our glaring blind spots more than this bank. It ran a money laundering enterprise on such a massive scale that it startled most of us. And yes, it should shake the anti-corruption ‘community’ to its roots that the bank is based in Denmark – a country that Transparency International has consistently labelled as amongst the top three ‘least corrupt’ for more than two decades.” No-one from Danske showed up to receive the award or to thank their parents – ungrateful bunch.