Credit Suisse: The “irrational story” that sunk Tidjane Thiam

By Olivier Caslin
Posted on Monday, 16 March 2020 14:05

Tidjane Thiam, April 26, 2019, at the Annual General Meeting of Credit Suisse. © Ennio Leanza/AP/SIPA

After he left for competitor UBS, former Credit Suisse wealth management star Iqbal Khan was placed under "surveillance", an incredible operation that triggered everything that followed.

In the late morning of September 17, 2019, Iqbal Khan, former head of the international asset management division of Credit Suisse (CS), accompanied by his wife, left their home in a dark grey Mercedes AMG.

The couple drove briskly up the street to the nearby football pitch, where they dropped off their six-year-old son for his training session. They made a quick stop at the local laundry before heading back up to the city of Zurich, some ten kilometres away.

READ MORE Tidjane Thiam, the banker who bothered Switzerland

Police! Police!

Later, while driving beside the lake, they noticed an anthracite Audi following them.

A chase starts on Bellerivestrasse. Iqbal Khan drove at random to lose his pursuer, around Paradeplatz, and then came to a sudden stop in front of the Metropol restaurant, a block away from the prestigious Credit Suisse headquarters.

The financier then erupted from his sedan, shouting, “Police! Police!”

Using his phone, he photographed the license plate of the other vehicle. A tall, bald man jumped from the Audi and tried to wrestle his cellphone from him and failed. He then returned to his two partners who had remained in the car, and they managed to escape. The three men would be found and arrested that evening.

READ MORE Tidjane Thiam exits Credit Suisse with profits at decade-long high

Iqbal Khan reacted quickly, and called Remo Boccali, the head of security at Credit Suisse, and filed a complaint with the cantonal authorities, who immediately opened an investigation.

When amateurism leads to tragic fatality

Three days later, the case made the front page of the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, which claimed the bank had placed its former employee under surveillance, fearing that he would poach colleagues and clients.

With scandal looming, Credit Suisse was obliged to conduct its own investigations. On 23 September, the case was handed over to the law firm Homburger, which took less than a week to deliver its findings. The following day, the story took a tragic turn with the suicide of a former police officer and regular employee of, and consultant to, Credit Suisse’s security services.

According to the Homburger report, the consultant was the link between the Investigo agency, in charge of the surveillance, and the sponsor of the whole operation, Pierre-Olivier Bouée, Tidjane Thiam’s close collaborator.

To protect Thiam’s interests, and thus those of the bank, Bouée reportedly ordered Remo Boccali on 29 August to have Iqbal Khan under surveillance “24 hours a day”.

“Operation Crown” began on 4 September and, following the clumsiness and amateurism of the Investigo investigators, resulted in tragedy, less than two weeks later.

An “irrational story,” said Pierre Veya, editor-in-chief of the Swiss daily, Le Temps.

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