December 7, 2018 / 1:00 PM / 7 days ago

Danske owners to vote on chairman to steer bank through crisis

COPENHAGEN, Dec 7 (Reuters) - Danske Bank shareholders meet on Friday to elect a new chairman they hope will help steer Denmark’s top lender safely through a multi-billion euro money laundering scandal that has caused outrage at home and abroad.

The Maersk shipping tycoon family, top shareholder with a 21 percent stake, has nominated Karsten Dybvad, 62, who they hope can help to “instil and safeguard a sound culture” at the bank.

Several top investors contacted by Reuters said they would approve the nomination, which has already been backed by Danske’s board.

Dybvad was CEO of the Confederation of Danish Industry, one of the country’s most influential lobby groups, for the last eight years and before that had a long career as a government official working with ministers from both left and right of Danish politics, though his role did not involve oversight of banks.

Besides restoring Danske’s image, Dybvad is also tasked with finding a new chief executive to head the bank at a time when potential legal cases, not least in the United States, could drag attention from day-to-day business.

Authorities in Denmark, Estonia, Britain and the United States are investigating payments totalling 200 billion euros ($229 billion) made through Danske Bank’s tiny Estonian branch between 2007 and 2015.

Jesper Nielsen has taken on the CEO role on an interim basis since Thomas Borgen resigned in September, saying that although cleared legally he held ultimate responsibility for the scandal.

The Maersk family’s investment firm A.P. Moller Holding, usually a passive shareholder, had ousted the bank’s chairman Ole Andersen and called Friday’s shareholder meeting to nominate Dybvad and another board member.

The move is a rare example of the family, which controls shipping group A.P. Moller-Maersk, openly flexing its muscles to seek change at one of its investments.

“We make this move because we think that Danske’s board has not reacted swiftly enough to find a replacement for the current chairman,” said Robert Maersk Uggla, A.P. Moller Holding chief executive.

Given the depth of the crisis and the threat of regulatory penalties, some are relieved at the top shareholders’ activist approach.

The threat of a heavy fine from the U.S. Department of Justice has sent Danske’s shares down almost 50 percent since March, erasing around $15 billion of market value and raising the prospect of legal action from loss-making investors.

1 Danish crown = $0.1524 Additional reporting by Simon Jessop and Kirstin Ridley Editing by David Holmes

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