Long-running Swedbank investors case settled out-of-court

Swedbank ATM in Estonia.
Swedbank ATM in Estonia. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

A group of Estonian investors has come to an out-of-court settlement with Scandinavian-owned bank Swedbank, bringing to an end a thirteen-year saga surrounding junk bond deals in Romania.

Swedbank CEO Olavi Lepp told ERR Wednesday that: "The six-year litigation surrounding the events of 15 years ago is exhausting - especially when there is no end in sight. Therefore, I am glad that we were able to resolve these differences and focus on our core business. Our goal is always to support the growth of Estonian companies."

The consortium withdrew a lawsuit which they started six years ago and which was bounced up and down all three tiers of the Estonian court system, following the agreement, which is for an undisclosed amount.

The investors include media mogul Hans H. Luik and several other well-known entrepreneurs, including Toomas Sildmäe, Hannes Tamjärv and Armin Karu.

The land in question had been sold as real estate with building potential, but turned out to be farmland with little to no scope for development, ERR reports.

The case was due to back to review at county court level last month, but Bond Recovery OÜ, representing investors, withdrew a claim of compensation of €1.85 million on September 28.

The court confirmed this outcome two days later and ordered the parties to pay costs, BNS reports, while the parties involved have declined to comment further.

Lawyer Liis Puidak, representing Bond Recovery, told ERR that: "Unfortunately, we are not able to comment on the circumstances that led to the waiver of the lawsuit at the moment."

In February this year, the Supreme Court declined to hear the complaint, meaning that it would have needed to have been heard again in the first-tier county court, but the out-of-court settlement has removed the need for this.

Protestors had picketed Swedbank's headquarters in Tallinn last year, in an effort to draw attention to the case.

The case dates back to 2007 when Swedbank was known as Hansabank – while Swedish-owned by then, the bank had been founded in Estonia in the early 1990s and was rebranded as Swedbank in 2009 – offered an investment scheme which allegedly gave the impression that initial losses were the result of the boom-bust cycle, a phenomenon which the police also based its decision on in not pursuing an investigation.

However, it later became clear that the land scheme, which saw over €7 million in investments for over 40 hectares of land in Romania, was in fact a junk bond scheme.

The alleged fraud saw the purchased land being sold at around 167 times the average price per hectare of land in Romania at the time.

Swedbank says that since the scheme has now expired, there is no documentation left to provide in the case.

Close to 200 investors say the money was invested in average agricultural land which had no development perspective.

Quick facts:

  • Six issues of what turned out to be junk bonds organized with the active participation of Swedbank – then Hansa Bank – in 2007.
  • Total of €8,467,000 was amassed from close to 200 investors.
  • A total of 46.3 hectares of agricultural land was acquired in Romania for €7,712,000, (average price per hectare nearly €167,000, at a time when the average price of land in Romania stood at around €1,000 per hectare).
  • Swedbank subscribed for over 53 percent of all bonds, which it later carried over to its customers.
  • Over 755,000 charged in management and service fees.
  • As of October 17, 2011, Swedbank owned 100 percent of companies involved in the organization of the issue, with no annual financial report providing adequate information having been filed since.
  • Investors filed a lawsuit against Swedbank in 2018, but no substantive discussion was reached, since the bank considered those claims had expired, a line Harju County Court agreed with.

The Romanian real estate market collapsed in 2010 and has not since then recovered, ERR reported in February.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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