Andorra leader: Board of bank accused of money laundering by US ousted

MADRID – The leader of the tiny European country of Andorra announced Thursday that his government has ousted the board of a bank accused by the U.S. of money laundering for clients from China, Russia and Venezuela.

Head of Government Antoni Marti also told reporters during a visit to Brussels that some unnamed bank managers have been dismissed following the country’s takeover of Banca Privada d’Andorra, or BPA.

Marti spoke several hours after the entire board of Spain’s Banco de Madrid, a bank catering to wealthy clients and owned by BPI, resigned and was replaced.

Banco de Madrid’s seven-member board held a special meeting and unanimously asked the Spanish central bank late Wednesday if they could resign to “defend the interests of employees and clients” and “eliminate any doubt about the stability” of the bank.

The central bank said it accepted the board’s resignation and replaced them with a three-member board “to preserve the stability of the company and its operations.”

Andorra took over BPA and Spain took over its Spanish unit after the U.S. Treasury Department this week designated BPA a foreign financial institution “of primary money-laundering concern,” putting it at risk of being shut out of the U.S. financial system.

The Treasury Department said BPA managers helped launder money, including $2 billion allegedly siphoned off from the Venezuelan state oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela SA.

One unnamed high-level BPA manager accepted “exorbitant commissions” to develop shell companies that helped launder the Venezuelan company’s money, the Treasury Department said.

Two other BPA managers helped alleged Russian and Chinese money launderers arrested in Spain, the department said. Money laundering was also said to have been performed for “numerous” Spanish business owners.

Also Thursday, Panama’s government took over BPA’s operations in the Central American country but said it had no evidence that BPA’s Panamanian division was “engaged in these illegal acts.”

Andorra has a population of 85,000. It is wedged between Spain and France in the Pyrenees mountains and is known as a destination for skiing, shopping and banking. BPA is one of its five banking institutions.

Andorra’s heads of state are France’s president and a bishop from the Roman Catholic Diocese serving Andorra and part of the neighbouring Catalonia region in Spain. Executive power is held by Andorra’s government, with the head of government as the country’s leader.