Deutsche Bank AG is back at the heart of a scandal.
Last week, 170 law enforcement officials descended on the lender to raid it in connection with suspected money laundering. The pictures of police cars with flashing lights lined up in front of the bank’s Frankfurt headquarters sent the share price to a record low as investors considered the possibility of new distractions for top management and the potential of fines. Here’s what we know so far.
What are the allegations?
Frankfurt prosecutors, who are in charge of the investigation, allege that Deutsche Bank helped clients set up companies in tax havens and that it failed to report evidence to authorities that clients used its accounts to transfer money from illicit sources. The allegations target the period from 2013 to 2018, according to a statement published by Deutsche Bank. The prosecutors’ case is based on an assessment of a large trove of documents, commonly known as the Panama Papers, that were leaked to the press in 2015 and first reported on in 2016.
Who are the targets?
The investigation targets two Deutsche Bank employees, only identified as being aged 50 and 46, as well as others whose identity is as yet unknown, according to the prosecutors’ statement. One of the two suspects works in the bank’s anti-financial crime unit, the other one in the private wealth division, a person familiar has said. No current or former board members are among the suspects, the bank said on Nov. 30. Chief Executive Officer Christian Sewing said in an interview with a German newspaper on Sunday that the bank had investigated the issues raised by the Panama Papers in cooperation with its supervisors and had assumed the matter was closed.
Back in 2016, Deutsche Bank severed ties with a Cypriot lender named in the Panama Papers and which was identified in a media report as arranging as much as $2 billion in offshore transactions linked to associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin. That year, Deutsche Bank was among more than a dozen foreign banks ordered by New York’s banking regulator to turn over information about their contact with a Panamanian law firm that helped register tens of thousands of shell companies. The banks weren’t accused of wrongdoing.
What unit was involved?
The Deutsche Bank unit at the center of last week’s raids was called Deutsche Bank Global Trust Solutions, part of the lender’s private wealth business. It had a British Virgin Islands subsidiary called Regula Limited. Prosecutors say a Deutsche Bank business there had more than 900 clients and assets under management of 311 million euros ($353 million) in 2016.
Deutsche Bank sold the GTS business to Bahamas-based Bank of N.T. Butterfield & Son Ltd. in March this year. Deutsche Bank’s global head of wealth management Fabrizio Campelli said at the time of the sale that the move was a step in simplifying the business and represented a focus on its core markets such as Asia, the U.S. and the U.K. Financial terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.
What does it mean for Deutsche Bank?
At best, it’s another hit to morale for the bank and an unwelcome distraction for its CEO. Just a day before the raids, Sewing gave a pep talk to an annual executive gathering that several described as upbeat. But images of dozens of police cars in front of the bank’s offices quickly sapped any optimism and pushed the share price briefly below 8 euros for the first time.
At worst, it could expose the bank to a heavy fine and other regulatory punishments, and even put some executives at risk of litigation. As yet, there’s no indication that will happen. A review of the Panama Papers showed that the 11 German banks probed had “largely” complied with existing money laundering rules, Felix Hufeld, the head of the German financial regulator Bafin, said in January.
Prosecutors have said they’ve made “very rapid and very good progress” during the raids and Deutsche Bank has said it’s cooperating “comprehensively.” Prosecutors are scheduled to meet with Deutsche Bank’s lawyers Friday for talks over their initial findings and whether more information will be needed. Still, the review of the papers collected in the raids could take several months.
The next thing to watch is the fallout for Deutsche Bank’s management board. The lender, which has also drawn scrutiny in recent weeks for its role in a dirty money scandal at Danske Bank A/S, was considering replacing Chief Regulatory Officer Sylvie Matherat even before the latest developments. It has long been in the spotlight for deficiencies in money laundering controls — which fall into a unit ultimately headed by Matherat — and the raids certainly don’t help. Deutsche Bank’s supervisory board is scheduled to meet Thursday.