By Teis Jensen and Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen
COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - Danske Bank’s annual shareholder meeting extended into the fifth hour on Monday as retail investors expressed their discontent over the bank’s involvement in one of the world’s biggest money laundering scandals.
Some of the 700 or so shareholders present called for management to be held personally responsible and others demanded the bank be split up as the fallout from the scandal continues.
Denmark’s largest bank is under investigation in the United States, Denmark, Estonia, France and Britain over 200 billion euros (171 billion pounds) in payments that were found to have flowed through its Estonian branch from Russia, former Soviet states and elsewhere between 2007 and 2015.
Since the scandal surfaced last year the bank has replaced its CEO and the chairman, pulled out of Russia and the Baltics, boosted its compliance efforts and promised to donate 1.5 billion Danish crowns (£172 million) to fighting financial fraud.
Danske told shareholders on Monday that former and current executives have waived bonuses because of the scandal.
"The executive board has decided to waive the bonuses that could have been paid for 2018," new Chairman Karsten Dybvad said at the meeting in Copenhagen.
Dybvad said he supported the decision but did not disclose the size of the bonuses being waived.
Danske's share price halved in 2018 but has stabilised this year, with no major new revelations about the bank having emerged as other lenders have become entangled in the scandal, including Deutsche Bank and Swedbank.
Yet the bank’s involvement in money laundering through its Estonian branch was by far the biggest issue at the AGM, where shareholders were greeted outside by about a dozen protestors.
"The bank has made a fool out of shareholders, customers and the entire Danish population,” shareholder Nanna Bonde said at the AGM.
Several retail investors voiced concern about potential lawsuits from investor groups. Danske Bank and four former top executives were sued in January by a U.S. shareholder that accused the bank of defrauding investors and inflating its share price by hiding and failing to stop money laundering.
"It is our fundamental position that the bank has lived up to its information obligation," Dybvad said when asked about potential investor lawsuits. "As such we don't find any basis for lawsuits or for a settlement".
The former CEO of the influential Confederation of Danish Industry replaced Ole Andersen as Danske chairman at a December extraordinary general meeting called by the Maersk family, the largest shareholder in the bank and in shipping group A.P. Moller-Maersk.
Dybvad told Monday's AGM that 2018 had been a low point for Danske but also a turning point, adding that last year also marked the start of internal dialogue about the bank's role in society.
(Reporting by Teis Jensen and Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen; Editing by Mark Potter and David Goodman)