Danish Bank Under Money-Laundering Probe in France

A French judge is investigating Danske Bank A/S for allegedly laundering stolen Russian money identified by deceased whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky, according to a former hedge-fund manager leading an international campaign for sanctions against Russia.

Bill Browder said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal that French judge Renaud van Ruyrnbeke is investigating Denmark's biggest lender after he provided details of the lender's involvement in laundering money from a tax fraud Mr. Magnitsky exposed in Moscow.

Danske Bank said Wednesday that it was under investigation by the French Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris court "in relation to suspicions of money laundering concerning transactions." The bank said the transactions totaled about EUR15 million ($17.8 million) transferred to France by former customers of Danske Bank's Estonian unit between 2008 and 2011.

In 2009, Mr. Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who worked for Mr. Browder, died in custody after exposing evidence allegedly showing that police and criminals conspired to steal $230m in a tax fraud. Mr. Browder said Danske Bank is the first lender to be formally investigated for allegedly laundering funds identified by Mr. Magnitsky.

"We are not presently in a position to say whether the amounts came from illegal activities, and we do not wish to comment on the specific case as long as it is being investigated," Flemming Pristed, Danske Bank's general counsel, said in a statement. A spokesman for the bank contacted by The Wall Street Journal declined to give more details. A spokeswoman for the French judge declined to comment.

In 2012, Mr. Browder successfully lobbied Congress to pass the Magnitsky Act, which prevents anyone allegedly involved in Mr. Magnitsky's death from entering the U.S. or using the American banking system. He has campaigned for similar laws and investigations across Europe. Mr. Browder said he contacted French authorities in September 2013 with details of how Danske Bank's unit in Estonia was involved in laundering the Russian money.

"The investigation is based on a criminal complaint that we filed in September 2013 about proceeds from the crime that Sergei Magnitsky exposed," Mr. Browder said in an interview. "We are going after the people who benefited from the crime he exposed or who facilitated the money laundering."

Mr. Browder managed billions of dollars of investments in Russia until he pulled out of the country more than a decade ago. Born an American citizen, he now carries a British passport and lives in London, from where he manages his campaign.

Write to Simon Clark at simon.clark@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

October 12, 2017 12:28 ET (16:28 GMT)