Perhaps it is merely a coincidence but just weeks after Deutsche Bank became the first bank to admit to rigging the gold market (and agreeing to rat out fellow manipulators) yesterday afternoon the head of Deutsche Bank's "integrity committee" announced he would resign two years before his time, which is a polite way of saying he was fired.
As the FT reports, Georg Thoma has been fired from Deutsche Bank’s supervisory board two years before his contract ends "after coming under fire from other board members in a battle over how to deal with the German bank’s past scandals."
Thoma, a veteran Shearman and Sterling lawyer, was brought on to the board by chairman Paul Achleitner in 2013 and headed the integrity committee, whose remit includes overseeing the bank’s efforts to comply with legal and regulatory requirements. Alas, he failed as the bank's record surge in litigation charges in recent years has amply demonstrated.
According to the FT, "Thoma’s approach left him at odds with some colleagues, and on Sunday, Alfred Herling, Deutsche’s vice-chairman, took the unusual step of publicly criticising his actions in Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung. Mr Herling accused Mr Thoma of “overzealousness”, saying that he “goes too far when he demands ever wider investigations and more and more lawyers come marching up”, and adding that the costs were “no longer proportionate”.
As Bloomberg adds, the remarks divided observers, with Dieter Hein, an analyst at Fairesearch-Alphavalue, saying Thoma was probably just doing his job, while Michael Seufert, an analyst at Norddeutsche Landesbank, said the question of going too far in probing wrongdoing is legitimate.
In other words, the vice-chairman goes after an internal scapegoat, the person who is tasked with fixing what is clearly a broken organization (just check its stock price) because the bank is unable to stop rigging every market it participates in.
As a reminder, Deutsche Bank’s costs and provisions for fines and lawsuits have amounted to $14.3 billion since 2012 and have substantially cut into the company’s reserves at a time when regulators order banks to hold more capital, resulting in the company's stock price recently hitting lows not seen since the financial crisis. On Thursday, DB said that it expects further "material" legal costs this year when reporting quarterly earnings
DB at least had some kind parting words: Achleitner said Thoma had given Deutsche “outstanding service” during his time on the board. “He has implemented processes of great importance and benefit to the bank. The supervisory board is determined to continue its work of investigating possible misconduct and to draw lessons for the future,” he said.
And yet the main lesson, namely that not to fire the person who is meant to fix a broken organization, was somehow missed.
Meanwhile, Henning Kagermann, the former head of German software group SAP who is also a board member at Deutsche, told the newspaper that “for all the diligence that we have exercised, it is important for us that Deutsche Bank finally . . . devotes all its energy to looking to the future”.
Yes please, look at the future, and ignore DB's past which, among other unexplained incidents, includes the suicide of former senior executive William Broeksmit, who was found dead after hanging himself at his London home, as well as the suicide of the bank's associate general counsel, 41 year old Calogero "Charlie" Gambino, who was found on the morning of Oct. 20, having also hung himself by the neck from a stairway banister.
One wonders if any of those deaths had something to do with what has emerged to be a culture of unprecedented corruption and, recently, outright crime.
Deutsche said in a statement that Mr Thoma would resign immediately from his role as chairman of the integrity committee and leave the supervisory board after a one-month notice period. The bank has begun the search for a permanent successor. We are confident a former Goldman Sachs employee will be delighted to fill Thoma's shoes.
The shocking termination comes comes just three weeks before Deutsche’s annual shareholder meeting on May 19, at which the bank’s supervisory board is likely to come under scrutiny, and even more dirty laundery may be set to emerge, especially since as the FT adds, "one small shareholder has requested a special audit of whether members of Deutsche’s supervisory board or management board breached their obligations in how they dealt with some of the bank’s legal entanglements."
The motion requests that the audit ascertain whether there were management failings in relation to a number of investigations, including the Libor scandal. Among other things, it requests an investigation into whether Deutsche had to pay heavier fines because members of its management or supervisory board obstructed, misled, or failed to co-operate sufficiently with authorities.
Considering the tsunami of legal settlements unveiled by Deutsche Bank in recent months - not to mention its shocking eagerness to put its gold manipulation history quickly in the past - we are confident the motion will be promptly denied.