Danske Chairman to Step Down After Money-Laundering Scandal

(Bloomberg) -- The main shareholder in Danske Bank A/S just made clear it won’t stand by and watch the chairman muddle through the lender’s biggest crisis in a century.

As Danske finds itself at the center of one of Europe’s worst ever money laundering scandals, A.P. Moller Holding A/S used its roughly 20 percent stake in the bank to force Chairman Ole Andersen out.

The stunning announcement follows the 62-year-old Andersen’s failed attempt to win approval for his chosen candidate for chief executive officer. The sheer scale of Danske’s dirty money scandal, much of which overlapped with his tenure, also made Andersen’s continued presence untenable.

Robert Uggla, the CEO of A.P. Moller Holding, said Danske’s board had simply been “too slow” in dealing with the fallout of the laundering crisis. “We believe it was necessary to make a decision now,” he said on a conference call on Tuesday.

Shares in the bank opened as much as 3.8 percent on Wednesday, and traded at their highest level in about three weeks, after investors digested the news.

Click here to learn what analysts are saying about the change of chairman

Danske has admitted that a large part of about $230 billion that flowed through a tiny Estonian unit was probably suspicious in origin. The bank is now the target of criminal investigations in several jurisdictions, including the U.S., and has reported multiple employees to the police.

The transactions at the center of the scandal allegedly took place between 2007 and 2015. Andersen became chairman in 2011 and wasn’t due to step down until March next year.

Ongoing Search

Danske still hasn’t found a permanent chief executive officer to replace Thomas Borgen, who was removed from the bank last month for his role in the laundering scandal. Andersen had hinted in September that he would probably need to leave too, but said he wanted to stay on a bit longer to complete the “task” at hand. That task included finding a replacement for Borgen.

But Andersen’s protege, Jacob Aarup-Andersen, was rejected by the Financial Supervisory Authority last month. The reason given was that the 40-year-old head of Danske’s wealth unit essentially lacked the relevant experience.

A.P. Moller Holding wants Andersen, once a titan of Denmark’s corporate scene, to be replaced by Karsten Dybvad, who is the head of the Danish Confederation of Industry and is the same age as the outgoing chairman. The investor has demanded an extraordinary general meeting within two weeks to discuss the changes it says are needed.

Uggla said A.P. Moller Holding won’t interfere in the actual selection of a new CEO. The investor wants “to be a very active owner in Danske Bank, but it’s the job of the board to find a new CEO,” he said. Uggla also questioned whether Danske’s selection process was aligned with its interests.

Extraordinary Changes

Danske said it has had “talks with several major shareholders.” It was agreed that “extraordinary and extensive changes are necessary as part of the process of recovering the confidence of all the bank’s stakeholders,” the bank said.

Shares in Danske fell as much as 2.3 percent in Copenhagen, bringing its losses this year to about 45 percent. The bank is the worst performing financial stock in Europe since the end of December, according to an index compiled by Bloomberg.

Robin Rane, an analyst at Kepler Capital Markets, said A.P. Moller’s proposal is “not very surprising” given the depth of the laundering crisis. “It’s important to have people in there who are perceived as reliable and competent. It’s a storm.”

Some of Danske’s most high-profile investors were quick to chime in. At ATP, Denmark’s biggest pension fund with about $120 billion in assets, CEO Christian Hyldahl said he “fully supported” the choice of Dybvad to replace Andersen as chairman. He highlighted Dybvad’s “understanding of society” as a key qualification for the job.

“The board faces a very big task in rebuilding trust in the bank,” Hyldahl said.

Read more about changes to the Danske board:

  • Andersen’s departure was one of four announced on Tuesday, sweeping the board clean of any independent members who were there when the laundering happened and during the bank’s initial failed efforts to shut it down
  • A.P. Moller Holding nominated its chief investment officer, Jan Thorsgaard Nielsen, to serve as vice-chairman, replacing Carol Sergeant. The former chief risk officer at Lloyds Banking Group said she won’t seek re-election at the March annual general meeting.
  • Also leaving the board is Rolv Erik Ryssdal, who like Sergeant said he won’t seek re-election at the AGM. Jorn P. Jensen, the chairman of the audit committee, plans to step down at the EGM, along with Andersen

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