Swedbank's former CEO is acquitted of gross fraud


Published 25 January 2023 at 14.15

Economics. Swedbank's former CEO Birgitte Bonnesen was acquitted today by the Stockholm district court of gross fraud, gross market manipulation and unauthorized disclosure of insider information.

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The indictment relates to events during the autumn of 2018 and the spring-winter of 2019, where Swedbank's then CEO Birgitte Bonnesen made certain statements about the bank's work against money laundering.

The prosecutors have stated that the CEO spread misleading information by denying and downplaying that the bank had problems with its anti-money laundering work in Estonia during 2007–2018. In that part, the CEO has been charged with, firstly, gross fraud and, secondarily, gross market manipulation.

The CEO has also been charged with having disclosed insider information at a meeting, consisting of the fact that SVT's “Assignment review” would shortly broadcast a critical program about Swedbank and money laundering in Estonia. The program was broadcast on 20 February 2019 and contained information that Swedbank's subsidiary banks in the Baltics had historically had connections to suspected money laundering in Russia, among others.

Birgitte Bonnesen has denied any crime and stated that she has neither made misleading statements nor has disclosed any inside information.

Extensive evidence has been presented in the case. The main hearing has been going on for two months and more than 30 people have been heard as witnesses in the case. Because the evidence contained information about customer relationships and Swedbank's strategic work against money laundering, the hearing was partly held behind closed doors.

In order to be held liable for gross fraud or gross market manipulation, according to the allegation, the CEO must, through his statements, have misled the public and the company's stakeholders that Swedbank has not had problems in its work against money laundering in the bank's operations in Estonia during 2007–2018.< /p>

The district court has assessed that some of the CEO's statements have been unclear and incomplete with regard to the bank's work against money laundering. It primarily concerns statements that Bonnesen made in Svenska Dagbladet and Dagens industri regarding Swedbank's connections to Danske Bank's Estonian branch during 2007–2015. The statements that have been made have, however, according to the court, been generally held and, as far as has emerged, essentially correct. In any case, the CEO has not said that Swedbank has been exempt from problems in its work against money laundering. The prosecution for gross fraud or gross market manipulation has therefore been dismissed.

– The crime of fraud is almost a form of fraud against the public. For criminal liability, it is not enough that someone provides incorrect information or omits key information, but it requires misleading information that is typically sufficient to influence the recipient in a certain direction. Generally praising a company is not punishable as a rule, but a certain degree of concreteness and precision is required in the provision of information. The court has gone through all the statements and has come to the conclusion that what has been said has been within the limit of what is permitted, either because the statements have been correct in the strict sense, or because they have lacked the necessary concreteness, says the chairman of the court, Chief Councilor Malou Lindblom in a comment.

Regarding the prosecution for unauthorized disclosure of insider information, it has emerged that Birgitte Bonnesen told in advance at a meeting with the bank's major shareholders about the upcoming program from Uppdrag gränskning, which was not made public at the time information. However, the CEO has only provided general information about what she thought would be the program content. According to the district court, what was said at the owners' meeting was too imprecise to qualify as insider information. The indictment has therefore also been left without approval in this part.