November 20, 2018 / 3:46 PM / 19 days ago

Denmark aims to improve whistleblower protection amid Danske Bank scandal

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - Denmark pledged to improve legal protection for whistleblowers after a British man who helped expose alleged money laundering at Danske Bank (DANSKE.CO), spoke publicly for the first time.

FILE PHOTO: The Danske Bank building in Copenhagen, Denmark, September 27, 2018. REUTERS/Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen/File Photo

In a widening scandal, authorities in Denmark, Estonia, Britain and the United States are investigating payments totaling 200 billion euros ($228.5 billion) made through the tiny Estonian branch of Denmark’s biggest bank from 2007-2015.

But the lawyer for the main whistleblower in the case has said that Denmark’s whistleblower protection rules are among the weakest in Europe, referring to surveys by anti-graft watchdog Transparency International and Blueprint for Free Speech.

“Denmark is rated zero, meaning the lowest - really no protection for whistleblowers, in the worst category for all of Europe,” U.S. lawyer Stephen Kohn told a public hearing in Copenhagen on Monday.

His client, Howard Wilkinson, told a Danish parliamentary hearing on Monday that a major European bank helped process up to $150 billion in suspicious payments for Danske, or nearly two-thirds of the transactions under scrutiny.

But Kohn said Wilkinson, who headed Danske Bank’s Baltics trading unit from 2007-2014, risks being prosecuted under Danish bank secrecy laws for sharing his knowledge about wrongdoings at Danske with authorities.

“If Howard Wilkinson is correct in that he can’t talk to the Danish authorities without being prosecuted, that must obviously be changed,” Business Minister Rasmus Jarlov said on Twitter on Monday. Jarlov was looking into the matter and had no further comment, a spokesman said on Tuesday.

Kohn said on Sunday Wilkinson was committed to cooperating with Denmark’s parliament despite the risk of prosecution.

Though the Nordic nation has freedom of speech written into its 1953 constitution, rules governing whistleblowers are vague, Socialist lawmaker Lisbeth Bech Poulsen said.

“We need a law on whistleblower protection and a place where you can go anonymously and risk-free and get counseling and an authorization to go ahead and talk to authorities, even if legally (restrained) by a contract,” she told Reuters.

Two other parties, the Social Democrats and Danish People’s Party, have also called for better whistleblower protection in the wake of the Danske Bank scandal, suggesting there would be a majority in parliament for such a step.

Reporting by Teis Jensen; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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