Saturday, December 3, 2022

Commerzbank fires former analyst from Wirecard

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Commerzbank fired its former Wirecard analyst Heike Pauls after emails showed it informed the management of the disgraced payments firm of criticism that a hedge fund shared with it.

The German lender said in a statement on Tuesday that it had “terminated the employment relationship [with Ms Pauls]And declined to comment further. Ms Pauls did not immediately respond to a request for comment on her dismissal, which was first reported by German business newspaper Handelsblatt.

Ms Pauls had been one of the more optimistic supporters of Wirecard, which collapsed after revealing that € 1.9 billion in corporate cash did not exist, in one of the biggest accounting frauds post-war Germany. She had recommended buying the shares of the Munich-based group until its insolvency last summer.

In early 2019, Ms Pauls published a research note in which she described a Financial Times report on allegations of accounting manipulation in the company’s Asian operations as “fake news.” Commerzbank subsequently withdrew this report and apologized for the wording.

Last month an email from Ms Pauls surfaced showing that in 2016 she was sharing information gathered during a call with Greenvale Capital, a London-based hedge fund, with Burkhard Ley, then CFO of Wirecard, and Iris Stöckl, head of group communications.

In the email, which was seen by the Financial Times, she said the hedge fund believed Wirecard’s story was “too good to be true” and that “not all but most” of its business had to be wrong. Inviting Mr Ley and Ms Stöckl to treat his email confidentially, Ms Pauls said: “It is important to me that you get a feel for what is currently being discussed in the background.”

Commerzbank hanging the blanket companies followed by Ms. Pauls immediately after the email was published in mid-January.

The fallout from the Wirecard collapse continues.

Last week, the chairman of German regulator BaFin, Felix Hufeld, and his deputy, Elisabeth Roegele, were both ousted by German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz. This followed the suspension of a BaFin employee for suspicion of insider trading in Wirecard shares.

Meanwhile, in December, Ralf Bose, the leader of the German auditor Apas’ watchdog, was suspended after revealing that he bought shares in Wirecard while his institution was probing the EY Group auditor.

Commerzbank is trying to turn around its fortunes under the leadership of new managing director Manfred Knof, who joined Deutsche Bank in January. Last year, the German lender had to to write 175 M € since it was one of the 15 banks to have provided an unsecured revolving line of credit to Wirecard.

After an internal investigation into the controversial payments group, Commerzbank decided in 2019 to sever ties with the company but was unable to withdraw from the loan for contractual reasons. Then at the beginning of last year Commerzbank informally BaFin warned on the risks of money laundering at Wirecard.

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