WORLD BUSI­NESS Danske in­vestors look to Maersk clan in cri­sis

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COPEN­HAGEN — Danske Bank’s top in­vestors are look­ing to Den­mark’s Maersk fam­ily to steer the coun­try’s largest lender through the tur­moil of a 200 bil­lion euro ( US$ 227 bil­lion) money laun­der­ing scandal.

The Dan­ish clan’s in­vest­ment firm AP Moller Hold­ing, Danske’s nor­mally pas­sive top share­holder with a stake of around 21 per cent, has ousted the bank’s chair­man Ole An­der­sen and called an ex­tra­or­di­nary share­holder meet­ing in Copen­hagen on Fri­day to nom­i­nate two suc­ces­sors to the board.

Given the depth of the cri­sis at Danske Bank and the threat of reg­u­la­tory penal­ties, some are re­lieved at AP Moller Hold­ing’s new ac­tivist ap­proach.

“They’re say­ing: ‘screw this. We need to sort this out; we can’t sit on the side­lines be­ing pas­sive money’,” one of Danske Bank’s top 30 in­vestors said on con­di­tion of anonymity.

AP Moller Hold­ing says it hopes for “broad sup­port” for its nom­i­na­tions at Fri­day’s meet­ing.

Its aim is to build a team with the authority to choose a re­place­ment for for­mer chief ex­ec­u­tive Thomas Bor­gen who re­signed in Septem­ber af­ter ad­mit­ting that Danske’s Es­to­nian branch helped fun­nel hun­dreds of bil­lions of eu­ros from coun­tries such as Rus­sia over more than eight years.

The threat of a heavy fine from the US De­part­ment of Jus­tice, which is in­ves­ti­gat­ing along­side Dan­ish, Es­to­nian and Bri­tish au­thor­i­ties, has sent Danske’s shares plung­ing al­most 50 per cent since March, eras­ing around $15 bil­lion of mar­ket value and rais­ing the prospect of le­gal ac­tion.

Nearly half a dozen groups have an­nounced plans to gather share­hold­ers and claim dam­ages, al­though none has filed a case.

AP Moller Hold­ing is propos­ing to nom­i­nate Karsten Dy­b­vad, CEO of the Dan­ish con­fed­er­a­tion of in­dus­try, and Jan Thors­gaard Nielsen, its own chief in­vest­ment of­fi­cer, as chair­man and vice chair­man re­spec­tively to steady Danske Bank’s board.

Sev­eral top in­vestors con­tacted by Reuters said they would ap- prove the nom­i­na­tions, which have al­ready been backed by the board, al­though one com­plained they had been un­able to reach Danske Bank’s de­pleted board di­rectly.

“They (Danske) need to un­der­stand that they have to open up and talk to their share­hold­ers,” said the in­vestor, who ranks among Danske’s top 10, but de­clined to be named.

“Un­der the usual cor­po­rate gov­er­nance, you speak to the board,” he added.

Claus In­gar Jensen, Danske Bank’s head of in­vestor re­la­tions, said it has been “in con­tin­ued con­tact” with large and small in­vestors over the last months and an­swered all ques­tions – as well as par­tic­i­pat­ing in pub­lic hear­ings in Dan­ish and Euro­pean par­lia­ments.

Danske Bank sup­ports the board nom­i­na­tions, al­though it does not back a third can­di­date, share­holder and en­gi­neer Arne Bostrom, who has also put him­self for­ward for elec­tion.

Al­lan Po­lack, group chief ex­ec­u­tive of Dan­ish pen­sion fund PFA, which holds around one bil­lion Dan­ish crowns ($ 153 mil­lion) of Danske shares, says Dy­b­vad is the “right can­di­date” to lead Danske and re­store in­vestor, cus­tomer and pub­lic con­fi­dence.

“We be­lieve that the bank, un­der the right man­age­ment, can move for­ward and re­main a piv­otal fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tion in Den­mark’s society,” he said.

Hen­rik Did­ner, founder of Swedish fund house Did­ner & Gerge and Danske’s third-big­gest share­holder – ac­cord­ing to Refini­tiv Eikon data – is also sup­port­ive and said he planned to meet peo­ple “con­nected to” Danske in due course. — REUTERS

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