Spying scandal rocks Credit Suisse: Feuding bosses on the shores of Lake Zurich, private detectives and a tragic death
It reads like something out of a potboiler spy thriller, set on Lake Zurich’s millionaire ‘Gold Coast’.
A simmering neighbourhood feud between one of the City of London’s best-known figures and his high-flying protege, a botched surveillance operation by private detectives and the suspected suicide of a middleman caught up in the scandal.
This is the plot-line that has rocked banking giant Credit Suisse, gripped the world of finance and now threatens to engulf the firm’s chief executive Tidjane Thiam, who ran the Prudential for six years.
Lake Zurich’s upmarket ‘Gold Coast’ is the scene of the feud between Credit Suisse boss Tidjane Thiam and the bank’s hugely successful wealth management boss Iqbal Khan
Yesterday the saga claimed its first corporate scalp – chief operating officer and Thiam’s right-hand man Pierre-Olivier Bouee. The firm’s global head of security, Remo Boccali, also fell on his sword.
An investigation commissioned by Credit Suisse and carried out by the Homburger law firm found that Bouee ‘acted alone’ when he instructed Boccali to recruit private detectives to spy on Iqbal Khan, the bank’s hugely successful wealth management boss.
This would culminate in extraordinary claims by Khan last month that three men chased him and his wife through the streets of Zurich by car and on foot – leading to a physical confrontation behind the Swiss National Bank.
Bouee is said to have hired private detectives amid fears that 43-year-old Khan, who arrived in Switzerland from Pakistan aged 12, was trying to poach clients from Credit Suisse after jumping ship for arch-rival UBS.
In a statement issued yesterday, Credit Suisse said Bouee had taken full responsibility for his actions and resigned with immediate effect.
Ivory Coast to the City
Exonerated: Credit Suisse boss Tidjane Thiam
Born into a prominent political family in Ivory Coast, Tidjane Thiam was raised and educated in France.
He returned to his home country in the mid-1990s where he accepted a government job, becoming minister for planning and development.
But within a year, the government was overthrown in a military coup and he was placed under house arrest. However, his return to the private sector proved more successful.
Thiam was appointed to lead Prudential in 2009, becoming the first black chief executive of a FTSE 100 company. His six-year tenure was not without controversy.
In 2013 he also became the first boss of a blue chip firm to be censured by the City watchdog, which was fined £30million.
Bouee, the bank reported, had told the inquiry he ‘decided to initiate the observation’ of Khan ‘in order to protect the interests of the bank’ on August 29, as soon as UBS announced it had recruited Khan to head up its own wealth management business.
But it said the banker insisted he did not breathe a word about it to any of the board executives, including 57-year-old Thiam.
According to Credit Suisse, the Homburger investigation ‘did not identify any indication that the chief executive had approved the observation of Iqbal Khan nor that he was aware of it prior to September 18, 2019, after the observation had been aborted’.
After distancing its top executives from the scandal, the bank said Bouee’s decision to hire private detectives was ‘wrong and disproportionate and has resulted in severe reputational damage to the bank’.
It also said Bouee’s suspicions proved unfounded – as the investigation found no evidence that Khan had ‘attempted to poach clients away from Credit Suisse’.
In a hastily arranged press conference, the bank’s chairman Urs Rohner apologised to employees, shareholders and to Khan and his family.
He added it was ‘with great sadness’ that the bank had learned of the reported suicide of a security expert who worked for Credit Suisse and acted as the middleman between the bank and the private investigation firm Investigo. Asked whether Credit Suisse was in any way responsible for the unidentified man’s death, he said: ‘We are greatly saddened.’
Resigned: Pierre-Olivier Bouee was Credit Suisse’s global head of security
Unfortunately for Credit Suisse and Thiam, the departure of its chief operating officer will not draw a line under the debacle – which is being investigated by Swiss prosecutors.
Suspicion that other executives were aware of what Bouee was doing is also unlikely to go away.
And speculation over Thiam’s role in the affair increased after reports about the breakdown of his relationship with Khan, who he had previously described as a ‘star’ and singled out as a potential successor.
The personal animosity between the two men is said to have intensified over an unseemly neighbourhood dispute, when Khan bought a property immediately next to his boss on Lake Zurich’s north-eastern ‘Gold Coast’ and spent two years redeveloping it.
After Khan moved into the property in January, he is said to have fallen out with Thiam’s partner at a cocktail party hosted by the chief executive.
The cause of the argument – which resulted in a confrontation between Khan and his boss – is thought to have been some trees planted on Thiam’s property. The two men were said to have been barely on speaking terms after the spat.
Rohner said the probe had not looked into ‘personal differences’ between Thiam and Khan, and there was no intention of filing criminal charges against anyone involved. But the plot thickens.