Former Nordea Danmark CEO Michael Rasmussen in his Copenhagen office. Photo: Thomas Lekfeldt/Scanpix
Nordea and Jyske Bank have been accused of offering tax evasion help to wealthy customers as part of an international investigation into the leaders, criminals and celebrities using secretive offshore companies.
Nordea is named in The Panama Papers, a huge cross-border journalism collaboration that has been analysing millions of records held by an international law firm based in Panama.
The bank, headquarted in Stockholm and the second-largest financial insitution in Denmark, is listed alongside around 500 other banks or subsidiaries including global household names such as SBC, UBS and Société Générale, as creating offshore companies through Mossack Fonseca.
Danish public broadcaster DR also reported that Jyske Bank is listed as a “professional client” of Mossack Fonseca, but the Silkeborg-based institution said that claims of any connections to the firm were “undocumented and completely baseless”.
Some 140 politicians and public officials around the world are also mentioned by The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which carried out the research. These include 12 current or former world leaders including the president of Ukraine, Pakistan and Iceland's prime ministers and the king of Saudi Arabia.
Tax Minister Karsten Lauritzen said tax agency Skat would investigate the claims that Danish banks helped their customers establish and maintain companies in tax havens.
“If someone is not playing by the rules, that naturally offends me because it is illegal tax evasion. At the end of the day, it will be up to Skat and the police to determine what happened,” he told DR.
Other Danish politicians were more direct in their criticism. Brian Mikkelsen, the tax spokesman for the Conservatives, accused Nordea of “daylight robbery”.
“Hard-working Danes are cheated when one speculates with shady companies in Panama. Even though taxes are high here at home, one must pay the tax they have to pay,” he told TV2.
Jeppe Kofod of the Social Democrats called the tax evasion revelations “grotesque”.
“Normal people end up paying higher taxes because others cheat. That is completely unfair. I also think that the banks need to take responsibility when they know what is going on,” he told DR.
Speaking to Swedish public broadcater SVT, the CEO of Nordea's Luxembourg division, where many of the tax deals are understood to have been facilitated, confirmed that the bank had helped customers to create secret 'letter box' companies in tax havens.
“We had a small number before. Now it is a very low number of these kinds of structures,” said Thorben Sander.
However documentation seen by the ICIJ suggests that at least 100 secret offshore companies facilitated by the bank remain active.
“Neither we or our customers think that this feels acceptable, obviously it is very regrettable,” Nordea's press officer Magnus Nelin was quoted as saying by Sweden’s TT news agency.