Credit Suisse Probe Homing in on Role of Thiam Confidant

The logo of Swiss banking group Credit Suisse is pictured on November 11, 2018 in Geneva. bloomberg
This content was published on September 28, 2019 - 10:23

(Bloomberg) -- Credit Suisse Group AG investigators are homing in on the role of Chief Operating Officer Pierre-Olivier Bouee in the run up to a vital board decision on who should take responsibility for a botched spying scandal, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The investigation shows that Bouee -- a close confidante of Chief Executive Officer Tidjane Thiam -- was involved in authorizing the surveillance of former executive Iqbal Khan, the person said, asking not to be identified because the probe is private. While it’s not clear who else might have signed off on the spying, the board is leaning toward sparing Thiam’s job after a top shareholder expressed support for the lender’s senior executives, the person said.

The probe is still ongoing into who authorized the hiring of the investigative firm that followed Khan through the streets of Zurich. The board is set to decide early next week who will be held to account after receiving a final report from an outside law firm, and no final decision has been made, the person said.

Still, the board is being swayed by public statements of support for top management, the person said.

Chicago-based Harris Associates, Credit Suisse’s biggest investor with an 8.1% stake, is among those urging the lender to let the crisis blow over. David Herro, deputy chairman of the firm, said it would “be damaging to CS and its stakeholders to lose any member of senior management over this issue.”

Credit Suisse declined to comment.

The bank has been engulfed in recent days by the drama mingling the personal and professional rivalries among the Swiss financial elite. The fate of top officials hangs in the balance as law firm Homburger wraps up the final stages of its inquiry into the matter, which has roiled Zurich’s financial circles in recent days.

A longtime Thiam associate, Bouee’s career has closely followed that of the CEO. They both moved to Prudential Plc in 2008 from Aviva Plc, where they worked together for about four years. Bouee started his career in the French Treasury before he moved to McKinsey & Co. in 2000, where Thiam also worked.

The probe into Credit Suisse’s biggest scandal of recent years stems from the hiring of a private investigator firm to shadow former international wealth management head Khan because of fears he would poach former colleagues after deciding to move to UBS Group AG. A confrontation in downtown Zurich last week between Khan and investigators brought a storm of publicity for the case and complaints to the public prosecutor in Zurich.

It’s not clear at this stage whether Credit Suisse believes Khan broke the terms of his contract, the person said.

The saga has broken a period of relative calm for Thiam after he navigated a three-year overhaul that saw him pare back volatile trading in favor of wealth management and begin to see stabilization at the global markets unit. The shares have gained about 14% so far this year, outperforming UBS -- its biggest rival -- which has seen its stock decline about 3%.

Khan is being brought in to co-head UBS’s wealth management business with Tom Naratil, perhaps making him a contender one day for the top job. But the recent scandal also raises questions about his role in the saga and how his relationship with his former boss unraveled. The two men’s animosity was an open secret within Credit Suisse. Their disagreements are said to range from Khan’s frustrated career objectives to lurid tales of the two men being close to a physical confrontation at a party in January.

Still, Khan’s departure in July removed a potential successor to Thiam at Credit Suisse, leaving the bank thin on obvious replacements should he be forced to step down. UBS had been galvanized into a search for executives who could potentially succeed Sergio Ermotti earlier this year after the loss of top bankers including Andrea Orcel and Juerg Zeltner.

Credit Suisse Chairman Urs Rohner, who has tasked board member John Tiner with leading the internal probe, will move swiftly to take punitive action against the institution’s senior officials if they’re found to be responsible, a person familiar with the situation said, asking not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Former Credit Suisse and UBS Group AG chief Oswald Gruebel took the opposite tack to Herro earlier this week, saying Thiam should be fired if the reports are confirmed, particularly if the scandal had its roots in a personal conflict between the CEO and Khan.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jan-Henrik Förster in London at jforster20@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Dale Crofts at dcrofts@bloomberg.net, Sree Vidya Bhaktavatsalam

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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