Dangerous trees

Chief Executive of Credit Suisse, Tidjane Thiam, 57, has lost his job over a corporate spying scandal. The Credit Suisse board voted to remove him at a meeting on 7 February. Some investors believe he has been forced out by the chairman Urs Rohner, 60. Major backers of the company such as Harris Associates are still supporting Mr Thiam and opposing Rohner, threatening possible legal action. This follows the news that last September, Credit Suisse had been caught spying on former head of investment, Iqbal Khan, 62, who was leaving to join UBS. He had been one of Thiam’s closest associates, but they fell out over a row of trees at their adjoining gardens in Lake Zurich.

Then in December 2019, the bank also had to admit that another employee, Peter Goerke, head of human resources, has also been followed in February 2019 after he had been demoted. A Swiss newspaper also reported that Credit Suisse had spied on Greenpeace after activists disrupted a shareholders meeting in 2017.

Corporate intelligence firm Investigo, acting for Credit Suisse, had cleared Mr Thiam of corporate espionage after a six-day investigation and instead implicated Pierre-Oliver Bouée, the bank’s chief operating officer and a close associate of Mr Thiam who had been with him at three different firms over sixteen years. He resigned in October 2019 as a result. After the revelations about Mr Goerke, the bank said that it was further penalising Mr Bouée, by treating his departure as a sacking rather than a resignation, a result that could cost him up to $4 million in lost pay and bonuses.

Switzerland has very strong right-to-privacy laws and these transgressions are seen as extremely serious. However, poor share price performance since Mr Thiam’s arrival may also be a factor – the bank’s value has almost halved. Feuding between senior figures is also seen as a factor by some. The irony is that all this dirty corporate espionage washing seems to have been exposed simply because some very wealthy men fell out about a row of trees.

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