Birgitte Bonnesen, CEO of Swedbank, and former superintendent of DFS, Maria Vullo. Foto: TT/Bloomberg

Swedbank misled American investigators

SVT reveals how the Swedish banking giant Swedbank’s top management withheld information from American investigators about suspicious customers and transactions. In addition, bank transactions show that Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort received nearly one million dollars in black money through Swedbank. The money was transferred via a secret company linked to the former president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych.

The events begin with the so-called Panama Papers from 2016. At the center of the scandal is the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca.

In April 2016, the New York State Department of Financial Services, DFS, sent a letter to Swedbank’s New York office, asking the bank to report all transactions that can be linked to Mossack Fonseca. The letter was written by then-superintendent Maria Vullo, who asked for:

A response from your organization (including any affiliates.)

Please identify: Any transactions involving Mossack Fonseca (...) solicited by (...) the New York state chartered or licensed banking entity of your organization.

The correspondence between Swedbank and DFS is confidential, but SVT have gained access to the documents, which reveal how Swedbank’s management misled DFS.

The secret bank leak from the Baltics shows that over 100 companies with ties to Mossack Fonseca have done business through Swedbank. This includes customers in the Swedish bank, and its Danish counterpart Danske Bank.

One of these customers is the infamous Russian oligarch Iskander Makhmudov. He and another oligarch partnered and controlled over 200 companies with accounts in Swedbank, some 20 of which were represented by Mossack Fonseca.

Iskander Makhmudov is one of Swedbank’s customers. Foto: TASS

In SVT’s material, one particularly suspicious transaction stands out – a transfer to Makhmudov of $137 million.

The money was sent via Cyprus and Swedbank in the Baltics to the oligarch's company in the tax haven of the British Virgin Islands. But when Swedbank replied to the DFS letter, they stated that there were only customers in the bank from Sweden and Norway with ties to Mossack Fonseca. They also stated:

The Bank did not identify reasons to suspect money laundering.

The bank therefore chose to withhold all information about the oligarch Makhmudov and his partner, the suspected money laundering and the over 100 companies in the Baltic region that can be linked to Mossack Fonseca.

Democratic Congressman Jim McGovern warns that the consequences to Swedbank may be costly.

“If you are lying to American authorities, it’s a very serious matter. It’s not going to be ignored. We can use the tools we have to hold these financial institutions accountable,” McGovern says.

Swedbank’s CEO Birgitte Bonnesen replies to the information when SVT confronts her:

“It sounds incredibly strange that we would have had any intention of covering things up,” she says. “That is not at all consistent with the way we work, or how we’ve done things throughout the years.”

Later, the bank sends another reply by email:

Swedbank cooperates fully and communicates clearly, correctly and with the best intentions with all relevant authorities. Current legislation does not allow Swedbank to comment on the existence or contents of any confidential potential communication with the New York State Department of Financial Services.

In addition, SVT can reveal that Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort received a large sum of black money through Swedbank. The payment was transferred via the secret company Vega Holding Limited, which was previously used in a case of suspected bribery of former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych.

On February 20, 2012, the sum of USD 999,987 was transferred from the company Inlord Sales LLP to one of Paul Manafort’s company accounts, Actinet Trading Limited, in a bank in Cyprus. Inlord Sales, the company that transferred the money to Manafort, is linked to Vega Holding, the company that Viktor Yanukovych used in Swedbank.

Paul Manafort received a large sum of money through Swedbank. Foto: TT

The money to Paul Manafort was never reported to American authorities.

Swedbank’s CEO refers to bank confidentiality when SVT asks questions about the bank’s knowledge of the payment to Manafort:

“I can’t answer that, because we at Swedbank are extremely particular about preserving our customers’ privacy,” Bonnesen says.

The full investigation “Swedbank and the Americans“ is available in english on SVT Play.

Read the other articles in english about suspected money laundering in Swedbank here:

Joachim Dyfvermark, Linda Larsson Kakuli & Axel Gordh Humlesjö


Per Agerman


Henrik Bergsten & Ella Hopf Berger

Web editors

SVT Datajournalistik

Visualization, Web Production & technical development

Ulf Johansson

Editor in chief

Photo: TT/SVT

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Publicerat 20 februari 2019

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