Germany Shuts Down Canadian Bank Tied To Money Laundering

For the first time since 2012, Bafin - Germany’s banking regulator, which for a minute looked like it might actually accuse Anshu Jain of lying about LIBOR - has closed a bank.

All financial transactions by Maple Bank of Canada’s German subsidiary have been halted on the grounds the operation has too much debt or, as BaFin put it, there’s “a prohibition on transfer of ownership and payment, due to imminent over indebtedness.”

Maple - which describes itself as having expertise in "equity and fixed income trading, repos and securities lending, deposits, structured products and institutional sale" - has obligations of around €2.6 billion and assets of €5 billion meaning it “has no systemic relevance” - to quote BaFin again.

It is however, “relevant” for National Bank - Canada’s sixth largest financial institution which has a 24.9% stake in Maple. National will now take a full reserve against that stake, the carrying value of which is CAD165 million. “That means National Bank’s CET 1 capital ratio will take a 13-basis-point hit,” WSJ notes, adding that “this isn’t the first time that National Bank has seen its regulatory capital level dented in recent months.”

No, it’s not, and this “isn’t the first time” that Maple Bank has been under the microscope.

As The New York Times reminds us, Maple “played a prominent role in attempts by the Porsche family to take over Volkswagen several years ago [by] helping Porsche lock up Volkswagen shares using a complex combination of derivatives.”

Former Porsche CEO Wendelin Wiedeking and former CFO Holger Härter are on trial in Stuttgart, where the pair face allegations that they purposefully lied to investors in 2008 to inflate VW shares. “Porsche was threatened financially at the time, according to prosecutors, because a sharp decline in Volkswagen shares forced it to post cash to protect Maple Bank from losses,” The Times adds.

In other words, Maple Bank was the institution at the center of the infamous short squeeze that caused VW shares to soar in October of 2008 when the automaker briefly became the most valuable company on the planet. At the time, the company’s market cap was greater than Apple, Philip Morris, and Intel combined.

Maple Bank is also under investigation for tax "irregularities." Last September, German prosecutors raided the bank's offices and homes tied to its employees in what Reuters called "a probe of serious tax evasion and money laundering connected to dividend stripping." Prosecutors alleged that at least 11 people illegally claimed some €100 million in tax paid using an illegal dividend arb. "Previous cases of dividend stripping in Germany have involved buying a stock just before losing rights to a dividend, then selling it, taking advantage of a now-closed legal loophole that allowed both buyer and seller to reclaim capital gains tax," Reuters said, outlining the circumstances behind the infraction.

Apparently, once Maple Bank made the government mandated provisions for taxes, its financial situation deteriorated meaningfuly. In other words, Germany effectively put the bank out of business. "Frankfurt prosecutors allege that Maple Bank and its business partners have bilked the taxpayer of some 450 million euros," Reuters added on Sunday. "The bank has an equity capital of just 300 million euros."

As for National Bank, the lender said on Sunday that it "has advised the German authorities that if it is determined portions of dividends received from Maple Financial Group Inc. could be reasonably attributable to tax fraud by Maple Bank, arrangements will be made to repay those amounts to the relevant authority." CEO Louis Vachon is "surprised" at the developments, but says his bank's results will not be materially affected by developments in Germany. 

Now if only BaFin would get serious about investigating Europe's largest bank which, unlike Maple, has quite a bit of "systemic relevance," we might be able to take the regulator seriously.