Wednesday 20 November 2019

Central bank warns ABN Amro on corruption risks: FD

abn amro logoThe Dutch central bank has been highly critical of the way ABN Amro tackles the risk of corruption in Russia, the Financieele Dagblad reported at the weekend.

In particular, links with an oil firm with potential links to Russian president Vladimir Putin are seen as problematic, the paper said. The paper bases its claim on a confidential letter written in the past month by the central bank which it has access to.

A spokesman for the central bank told the FD the Russian issue centres on ‘shortcomings’ in the bank’s strategy to deal with the risk of corruption. In essence, the central bank says, bankers are involved in business deals which do not take the risk of corruption sufficiently into account.

The revelation comes on top of a decision by finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem to delay the sale of the nationalised bank because of the row over a 17% pay rise for senior staff.

In particular, the central bank refers to oil trader Gunvor, which is an ABN Amro client. In March 2014, the US said Putin had ‘access’ to this company and that this is extremely sensitive given the conflict in Ukraine and the US and European sanctions against Russia.

Gunvor’s former major shareholder Gennady Timchenko was placed on the US sanctions list in March and is a good friend of Putin. Timchenko finalised the sale of his stake to Swedish co-founder Torbjörn Törnqvist one day before he was listed.

The central bank says ABN Amro has ignored signals about corruption involving Gunvor for years.

Compliance

However, in a statement on Saturday, ABN Amro said it is one of a large group of international banks, including Rabobank and ING, which do business with Gunvor.

ABN Amro says its own research has not brought ‘anything to light’ which contradicts Gunvor’s own statement on compliance.

Gunvor itself says: ‘All of Gunvor’s activities are in line with international standards for financial crime risk, including anti-money laundering, economic sanctions, counter-terrorist financing, and anti-bribery and anti-corruption’, the Dutch state-owned bank said.

However, ‘if it is proven that Gunvor has an unacceptable history, ABN Amro will terminate the relationship, subject to the required legal procedures,’ the bank said.

Criticism

Gunvor told DutchNews.nl in a statement it fully rejects all of these claims.

‘President Putin has never had any involvement in Gunvor, and has never been a beneficiary of its activities, directly or indirectly. Furthermore, no evidence has ever been provided by anyone, including the US government, to prove these allegations,’ the company said.

Nevertheless, opposition parties have now called on finance minister Dijsselbloem to clarify the situation. ‘This again raises questions about how good ABN Amro’s internal controls actually are,’ said Socialist Party MP Arnold Merkies.

Earlier this month the FD reported ABN Amro had fired six employees at its Dubai private banking desk after an internal probe showed they were involved in serious irregularities.

The bankers had failed to comply with internal codes of conduct by enabling clients to use their personal accounts for illicit business transactions, the FD said.

Note: This article was amended on March 30 following clarifications from Gunvor.

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