Commerzbank fires its former Wirecard analyst

Commerzbank has fired its former Wirecard analyst Heike Pauls after emails showed that she had briefed the disgraced payment company’s management about criticism of it that a hedge fund had shared with her.

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 most bullish supporters of Wirecard, which collapsed after it disclosed that €1.9bn of corporate cash did not exist, in one of Germany’s biggest postwar accounting frauds. She had recommended buying the shares in the Munich-based group right up until its insolvency last summer.

In early 2019, Ms Pauls published a research note in which she described a Financial Times report, into allegations over accounting manipulation at the company’s Asian business, as “fake news”. Commerzbank later retracted that report and apologised for the wording.

Last month an email by Ms Pauls emerged showing that in 2016 she shared information gathered during a call with Greenvale Capital, a London-based hedge fund, with Wirecard’s then chief financial officer Burkhard Ley and Iris Stöckl, who was the group’s head of communications.

In the email, which was seen by the Financial Times, she said that the hedge fund believed Wirecard’s story was “too good to be true” and that “not all but most of” its business must be fake. Asking Mr Ley and Ms Stöckl to treat her email as confidential, Ms Pauls said: “It is important to me that you get an impression of what is currently being discussed on background.”

Commerzbank suspended the coverage of the companies tracked by Ms Pauls immediately after the email was published in mid-January.

The fallout from Wirecard’s collapse continues.

Last week, the president 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 suspected insider trading in Wirecard shares.

Meanwhile in December, Ralf Bose, the head of Germany’s auditor’s watchdog Apas, was suspended after revealing that he bought Wirecard shares while his institution was probing the group’s auditor EY.

Commerzbank is attempting to turn around its fortunes under new chief executive Manfred Knof, who joined from Deutsche Bank in January. Last year the German lender had to write off €175m as it was among the 15 banks to have provided an unsecured revolving credit facility to Wirecard.

After an internal investigation into the controversial payments group, in 2019 Commerzbank decided to sever its ties to the company but was not able to pull out of the loan for contractual reasons. Then early last year Commerzbank informally warned BaFin about money laundering risks at Wirecard.

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