U.S. judge accepts Danske Bank guilty plea in $2 bln pact to end Estonia probe


NEW YORK, Jan 5 (Reuters) - A U.S. judge on Thursday accepted Danske Bank's DANSKE.CO guilty plea to a bank fraud conspiracy charge and agreement to pay more than $2 billion to end probes into anti-money laundering failures in a now-shuttered branch in Estonia.

U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald accepted the plea at a hearing in Manhattan federal court, with Danske's senior general counsel in attendance.

The $2.06 billion payout by Denmark's largest bank includes $1.21 billion to the U.S. government, $178.6 million to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and a criminal fine of $672.3 million to Danish authorities, court records showed.

Danske came under investigation in multiple countries after disclosing in September 2018 that an internal probe had uncovered about 200 billion euros ($210 billion) of payments made through the Estonian branch, with many payments appearing suspicious.

The U.S. Department of Justice said Danske defrauded U.S. banks about its Estonia customers and its anti-money laundering controls to enable high-risk customers who lived outside Estonia, including in neighboring Russia, to access the American financial system.

Danske Bank Estonia processed $160 billion on behalf of nonresident customers through U.S. banks, the Justice Department said.

Martin Blessing, Danske's chairman, last month said the bank apologized for and took "full responsibility for the unacceptable failures and misconduct of the past, which have no place at Danske Bank today."

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

((jon.stempel@thomsonreuters.com; +1 646 223 6317; Reuters Messaging: jon.stempel.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net))

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.


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