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Danske in historic management shift after six top people leave

[COPENHAGEN] As Danske Bank struggles through its worst crisis this century, it's also undergoing an historic shift in its upper ranks.

Denmark's biggest bank has lost six of its highest-ranking people since December, including its chief executive officer, its chief financial officer, its general counsel and its heads of international banking and wealth management. The bank's chairman has signaled he might be next.

Not all the departures can be directly linked to the money laundering scandal that toppled CEO Thomas Borgen. But the rapid turnover in Danske's upper ranks is new. Before Mr Borgen, only 12 other men held the top job over a period spanning 142 years. Peter Straarup, who led Danske from 1998 to 2012, started as an apprentice and stayed at Danske for 44 years. Now, the bank's executive team is largely made up of people hired over the past five years.

Robin Rane, an analyst at Kepler Capital Markets in London, says it's "not unlikely" that "more heads need to roll" before Danske can put the money laundering scandal behind it. The bank has admitted that much of about US$235 billion that flowed through an Estonian unit between 2007 and 2015 was suspicious, with criminal investigations under way in multiple countries and several employees reported to the police.

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Danske has yet to find a permanent replacement for Mr Borgen. The board made clear that insider Jesper Nielsen, who used to run Danske's Danish banking business, will only be an interim CEO. Potential candidates for a permanent role include Jacob Aarup-Andersen, a 40-year-old who has been Danske's CFO and who currently runs its wealth business. He joined the bank as a portfolio manager in 2012.

Not knowing who will run the bank represents yet another layer of uncertainty pummeling its share price. Danske's market value has plunged by about 30 per cent this year, and research analysts are growing uneasy at the lack of clarity surrounding the money laundering case and its fallout.

The question now centers on what sort of penalties are ahead. Danish authorities have said Danske may face a fine as high as US$630 million. That doesn't include regulatory repercussions or potential fines in other jurisdictions, including the US.

Mr Rane at Kepler says that "for the big long investors, it's kind of hands-off at this stage. There's a lot of uncertainty."

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