THE HAGUE: Dutch banking giant ING has paid €775 million to settle a criminal investigation over money laundering after it failed to ensure its accounts were not misused, prosecutors said on Tuesday (Sep 4).
The bank swiftly apologised as it acknowledged that "serious shortcomings" in its systems had enabled customers with criminal intent to misuse its accounts.
"ING Bank NV in Amsterdam has accepted a settlement agreement and paid 775 million euros (US$897 million) as proposed by the Dutch public prosecutor's office," a statement from the prosecutor said.
The amount included a €675 million fine and a reimbursement of €100 million which ING underspent on staffing to prevent the crimes as well as carry out due diligence procedures.
The Netherland's top bank was guilty of "serious omissions in the prevention of money laundering", the statement added.
"Clients were able to use accounts held with ING NL for criminal activities for many years, virtually undisturbed," it said, adding that the bank did not prevent customers from laundering "hundreds of millions of euros between 2010 and 2016".
Financial investigators two years ago launched a probe after their investigations revealed that many white-collar crime suspects held bank accounts at ING.
"This led to suspicions that ING NL was not sufficiently monitoring bank accounts and did not report unusual transactions, or reported them too late."
"ING NL missed potential signals of money laundering," by not properly monitoring these suspects' accounts, the prosecutor's statement added.
BRIBES AND LINGERIE
Prosecutors detailed several examples of misused accounts.
Among them was an international telecommunications provider that "transferred bribes worth millions of dollars via its bank accounts with ING to a company owned by the daughter of a former Uzbek president."
In another case a women's underwear trader laundered €150 million through a bank account held at ING.
"It should have been clear to the bank that the monetary flows had little to do with the lingerie trade and were therefore unusual," prosecutors said.
When ING's monitoring system did generate alerts, they were never further investigated and described by the bank as "not unusual."
In a statement, ING said it "acknowledges serious shortcomings in the execution of customer due diligence policies to prevent financial economic crime at ING Netherlands in the period investigated".
It also said it "sincerely regrets that these shortcomings enabled customers to misuse accounts of ING Netherlands".
CEO Ralph Hamers said the bank "takes full responsibility" for failing to ensure no crime was committed.
"As a bank we have the obligation to ensure that our operations meet the highest standards, especially where it comes to preventing criminals from misusing the financial system," he said.
"It's been a bad day for ING," Hamers said.
ING said it has taken measures against several senior employees, including freezing salaries and bonuses and suspension without pay.
The Netherlands' largest bank, which posted €4.9 billion in profits in 2017, warned that the settlement "will have an impact on ING's third quarter 2018 results."
Finance Minister Hoekstra said the latest scandal at ING was "extremely serious."
"Once again it affects confidence in the financial sector," Hoekstra said in a statement sent to AFP.
"I will carefully study the dossier and will shortly speak to overseeing bodies and ING's supervisory board to get an answer," he said.
The news had a limited impact on investor sentiment, with ING's share price dropping by about 2.0 per cent to around €11.50 in late afternoon trade on the Amsterdam stock exchange's AEX index which was over one per cent lower overall.
In 2012, ING agreed to pay a record US$619 million to the US authorities to settle accusations that it had violated American sanctions banning transactions with Cuba, Iran, Myanmar and Sudan.
ING has over 52,000 employees and customers in over 40 countries.