The head of one of Denmark’s biggest pension funds has spoken out to condemn a wide-scale tax fraud uncovered by a media investigation.

Danish national broadcaster DR, newspaper Politiken and other European media outlets in the last three months have published articles detailing a withholding tax scam – dubbed ‘Cum-Ex’ – said to have cost European governments €55bn.

In a comment on social media network LinkedIn, Torsten Fels, chief executive of labour market scheme PenSam, said: “What we see described in the media is the expression of a sick culture and business ethic in a broad swathe of the international financial sector, to which we are deeply opposed.”

Fels added: “We will focus even more on accountability and the screening of our investments and partners.”

According to DR, the scandal has cost Denmark’s public purse at least DKK12.7bn (€1.6bn).

In Germany, Denmark, Belgium, France and Italy, the activity – reportedly carried out by a network of international financiers and involving some of the world’s biggest banks – may have cost these countries’ treasuries a collective €55bn, according to German non-profit newsroom Correctiv, which coordinated the investigation.

Torsten Fels, PenSam

“A picture is being painted of blatant crimes that must be pursued by the authorities with toughness” – Torsten Fels, PenSam

Fels posted his comments after speaking in a news report on Denmark’s TV2 channel in the last few days.

He said that PenSam had a responsible investment approach that was based on credibility and decency.

“We screen for undesirable elements, but we are also dependent on trustworthy cooperation partners,” he said. “A picture is being painted of blatant crimes that must be pursued by the authorities with toughness.”

Fels described the investigation as “a wakeup call for the international financial sector”.

Reuters, one of the news agencies involved in the investigation, reported last week that authorities in Germany, Denmark, Austria and Belgium had all opened their own investigations into the fraud.

According to Reuters, the fraud involved shares being traded between banks, investors and hedge funds to create the illusion of multiple owners, each entitled to a refund on withholding tax charged on stock dividends.