Danske Whistle-Blower Seeks Protection After Identity Revealed

(Bloomberg) -- Lawyers for the Danske Bank A/S trader who blew the whistle on what is fast becoming one of Europe’s biggest money laundering scandals are asking authorities in Denmark and Estonia to provide protection after the man was identified by name in news reports.

Howard Wilkinson was cited without his knowledge or consent by Estonian media, according to a Sept. 26 letter sent to Danish and Estonian prosecutors and ministries of justice by Stephen Kohn, of the Washington D.C.-based law firm Kohn, Kohn and Colapinto.

“There may be people who want to seek either revenge or send a message that others who may have information on this scandal should keep their mouths shut, and that’s dangerous,” Kohn said in a phone interview. “It’s now an obligation of the governments of Denmark and Estonia to ensure protection.”

Two hundred billion euros ($235 billion) flowed through a tiny Estonian unit of Danske’s between 2007 and 2015, with much of that deemed suspicious transactions, according to an internal investigation Danske released last week. That’s almost nine times the size of Estonia’s economy.

Reputational Risk

Danske is now facing investigations in at least four countries and fury at home, where lawmakers and the central bank have said its actions have put Denmark’s reputation at risk. Chief Executive Officer Thomas Borgen resigned last week after the report’s release, as Danske struggles to restore confidence. The bank also has reported a number of employees to the police.

Danske shares are down almost a third since the start of the year, compared with a decline of about 15 percent in European bank stocks generally.

Authorities in Denmark and Estonia confirmed on Friday they’d received the request. Jakob Kronbrog, spokesman for Denmark’s Ministry of Justice, said “relevant authorities” have been asked to take “necessary measures.” He declined to provide further details. Kaarel Kallas, spokesman for the Estonian prosecutors’ office, said the safety of participants in investigations is “a priority.”

Kohn suggested Danske Bank may be behind the leak, and in the letter to authorities he asked that they ensure Wilkinson isn’t subjected to “retaliation, violations of his rights to privacy and/or his fundamental human rights.”

Kohn’s firm has also represented Bradley Birkenfeld, the former UBS Group AG banker who exposed how the Swiss lender helped Americans evade taxes and received in 2012 what was at the time the largest largest federal whistle-blower award for an individual.

Danske Bank spokesman Kenni Leth declined to comment on Wilkinson, saying the bank doesn’t “comment on individual staff matters.”

Unfounded Statements

Leth said the bank takes “our responsibilities in respect of whistle-blowers very seriously. This entails ensuring their full and complete anonymity and protecting their rights as we are under obligation to do in accordance with applicable legislation. As such, we find the statements made by the law firm mentioned to be unfounded. We have no further comments.”

Kohn said the publication of Wilkinson’s name wrongly shifts the focus to his client, with whom he’s been working for four years.

“There was no reason to release the name, because his whistle-blowing was verified,” Kohn said. “Nothing” in the Danske report, which referred to a whistle-blower, “undermined his credibility or raised an issue as to the veracity of his concerns. So why make him the issue? Why ever release his name?”

Wilkinson’s outing “is clearly done in retaliation and it sets him up,” Kohn said.

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