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Spying, surveillance and suicide: despite the Iqbal Khan scandal, Credit Suisse keeps CEO

By Julien Wagner
Posted on Thursday, 10 October 2019 11:08

CEO Tidjane Thiam of Swiss bank Credit Suisse addresses the bank's annual shareholder meeting in Zurich, Switzerland April 27, 2018. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

It's the case that has rocked the Swiss banking world. A story of spying, scandal and suicide. And while Credit Suisse have exonerated their CEO of all wrong-doing, the case is still not closed.

On Paradeplatz, the financial centre of Zurich, it is the only topic of conversation since September 21, when the story broke.

Iqbal Khan, a 43-year-old Swiss and Pakistani banker and successful former wealth manager of Credit Suisse, joined rival UBS on October 1.

The transfer might not have made the headlines if it had not turned into a rolicking thriller.

  • A fortnight ago news broke of how the former Credit Suisse star employee had been placed under “surveillance”, since August 29.
  • Khan had spotted people watching and tailing him while in downtown Zurich on September 17. He laid a complaint with police after a confrontation with the men following him.

Who ordered this surveillance? With what mandate? And for what purpose?

All eyes naturally turned to CEO of the second-largest Swiss bank, the 57-year-old Ivorian Thiam, whose relations with the former E&Y employee had deteriorated considerably in recent months as a result of personal conflict and competing ambitions.

Spying

The strained relationship between Khan and Thiam was well known.

  • Thiam and Khan had had a violent argument in January at a reception hosted by the former.
  • Khan allegedly made “hurtful remarks” about his host’s and neighbour’s partner (they live side by side) and about the “state of his garden”.
  • As a result of this bickering, the asset manager had not been appointed to the bank’s executive committee, as he had hoped.

However, the bank’s internal investigation, carried out by independent law firm Homburger, exonerates Credit Suisse’s CEO.

  • The investigation found that chief operating officer Pierre-Olivier Bouée and the head of the financial institution’s security department had been aware of the surveillance.
  • Bouée admitted that he had ordered Credit Suisse’s security chief to spy on Iqbal Khan, whom he suspected of wanting to poach several collaborators for the benefit of competitor UBS.
  • Both Bouée and the security head resigned immediately.

But doubts remain. The Swiss press, which has never really supported Thiam since his appointment in 2015, does not understand how he could ignore the actions of Bouée, who was a close associate.

What happens next?

Whatever has happened, Thiam’s and Khan’s association had been a real success.

  • As soon as Thiam joined Credit Suisse, he began reorganising the bank by cutting expenses and focusing on wealth management, which he entrusted to the then 39-year-old wolf who arrived two years earlier.
  • Banco! Four years later, Credit Suisse announced a return to profit (€1.85 billion in net income), more than 90% of which came from the wealth management business.

Although the Swiss institution managed to ease the pressure of the scandal through its quick investigation and the support of Thiam by various shareholders, the case may not stop there.

  • Zurich’s public prosecutor is still investigating the complaint Khan laid on September 17 when he realised he was being followed.

On September 24 the intermediary between the head of security and the private detectives in charge of monitoring Khan committed suicide with a bullet in the head shortly after the first revelations.

And a judicial inquiry was opened by the Swiss justice system.

This article first appeared in Jeune Afrique.

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