Credit Suisse tackles fallout from wealth management fraud

ZURICH • Credit Suisse Group is dealing with the fallout of a fraud in its international wealth management business, two years after it was criticised by a regulator in a similar case that rattled the bank and raised questions about controls.

The Swiss lender dismissed a Zurich-based banker who forged documentation on an over-the-counter contract for an African wealth management client, according to people familiar with the matter.

The deception, uncovered earlier this year, led to a loss of about 10 million francs (S$15 million) for the bank and had also impacted additional clients, the people said, asking not to be identified as the matter is private.

The latest scandal follows a restructuring of the risk function at Credit Suisse as chief executive Thomas Gottstein seeks to bolster oversight.

The bank’s reputation has taken a hit in recent months after a damaging spying scandal and its involvement in deals linked to failed companies, including Luckin Coffee and Wirecard.

“Credit Suisse confirms a case from the first quarter of 2020 in which a small number of clients were affected by unauthorised actions of a client adviser,” the bank said in a statement. “Credit Suisse took appropriate legal measures and informed the affected clients and relevant regulators.”

The fraud and losses were booked in the unit led by Mr Raj Sehgal. The unit serves the non-resident Indian community and sub-Saharan Africa. Clients are in the process of being compensated, according to one of the people.

Mr Sehgal was named head of the Africa and non-resident Indian business with a direct reporting line to former divisional chief Iqbal Khan two years ago. He is now chairman of that business after a shake-up that saw his region merged into the Middle East unit led by Mr Bruno Daher. International wealth management which caters to Credit Suisse’s wealthy clients outside of Switzerland and Asia reported provisions for credit losses of 74 million francs in the first six months.

The most recent fraud echoes a much bigger case when Patrice Lescaudron, a former star private banker, was sentenced to prison after he forged documents to cover mounting client losses. Lescaudron’s activities went undetected by Credit Suisse and his clients for years until a massive wrong-way bet on a Californian drugmaker in 2015 exposed his behaviour.

Switzerland’s financial regulator later identified deficiencies in the bank’s anti-money laundering controls and shortcomings in its oversight.

Local media reported that Lescaudron has since died by suicide.

Wealth management head Philipp Wehle has been reviewing the business as part of a wider revamp of the bank. The wealth business is reshaping how it lends against hard-to-sell assets, as well as its exposure to the oil and gas industry and shipping, which have been hit hard by recent market dislocations.

Mr Gottstein, who took over in February after the espionage scandal led to the ouster of former chief executive Tidjane Thiam, is working to restore calm after a turbulent period during the coronavirus outbreak. In April, Credit Suisse took a large hit in its Asian business, setting aside about US$100 million (S$136 million) for soured loans which mostly related to three cases, the largest of which was Luckin, where the bank had organised a margin loan for founder Lu Zhengyao.

The bank also helped sell US$1 billion of Wirecard-linked securities last year after questions were raised about the German company’s accounting, months before it was exposed as a fraud.

As part of a broader overhaul at the bank announced last month, Mr Gottstein promoted Ms Lara Warner to become group chief risk and compliance officer. Ms Lydie Hudson, who was in charge of compliance, is taking on a new role in sustainability.

BLOOMBERG

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