Deutsche Bank, DWS Raided Over Allegations of Greenwashing

(Bloomberg) — Deutsche Bank AG and its asset management unit had their Frankfurt offices raided by police, adding to the legal headaches facing Germany’s largest lender.

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Law enforcement officials on Tuesday morning entered the twin towers where Germany’s largest lender is headquartered, as well as the nearby premises of DWS Group, according to a statement from the prosecutor that confirmed an earlier Bloomberg report. The search is related to accusations of greenwashing against the asset manager.

“We have continuously cooperated fully with all relevant regulators and authorities on this matter and will continue to do so,” said a spokesman for DWS. Deutsche Bank said that the “measures” are “directed against unknown people in connection with greenwashing allegations against DWS.”

DWS has faced regulatory probes in the US and Germany after its former chief sustainability officer, Desiree Fixler, alleged last year that the company inflated its ESG credentials. As well as adding to the list of regulatory and legal issues for Deutsche Bank Chief Executive Officer Christian Sewing, the raid is a high-profile early example of lenders facing legal consequences for greenwashing.

DWS shares fell more than 5% on the news and Deutsche Bank declined as much as 2.6%. While DWS is publicly listed, Deutsche Bank owns an almost 80% stake.

Fixler has said that DWS’s claims that hundreds of billions of its assets under management were “ESG integrated” were misleading because the label didn’t translate into meaningful action by relevant fund managers. DWS has since stopped using the label.

The Frankfurt prosecutor said it started its investigation in January, triggered by reports on Fixler’s claims. It since found sufficient indications that “contrary to the statements in the sales prospectuses of DWS funds, ESG factors actually only played a role in a minority of investments.”

The raid involved about 50 people including staff from watchdog BaFin, one person said. It’s targeting as-yet-unidentified DWS staff and executives.

DWS CEO Asoka Woehrmann fired Fixler in March last year, saying in a memo to staff that her unit hadn’t made enough progress. She sued for unfair dismissal but lost the case before a Frankfurt labor court in January.

“German police are doing are very good and thorough job,” Fixler said by phone. “I am pleased to see this investigation is deepening to obtain further evidence.”

Deutsche Bank’s top echelon has been drawn into the greenwashing affair as well. Regulators probing the issue have asked the lender about the role of deputy CEO Karl von Rohr, who is also the chairman of DWS’s supervisory board. He was the main recipient of Fixler’s email when she first flagged her ESG concerns to DWS shortly after she was fired. Von Rohr helped arrange an external audit into her claims that cleared DWS, people familiar with the matter have said.

For Woehrmann, the raid is another blow after he faced scrutiny over his use of personal email for business purposes and the role his relationship with a German businessman played in deals. Sewing has backed Woehrmann so far, not least because DWS has been performing well under him. But the negative news flow has frustrated the lender’s leadership, Bloomberg has reported.

The latest raid comes about a month after Deutsche Bank’s headquarters were searched over suspicions that it was too late in reporting potential money laundering. While Sewing has long sought to shake off Deutsche Bank’s past of heavy fines and mend relationships with regulators, a number of new issues have popped up since he took office four years ago.

The bank recently was found in breach of a deferred prosecution agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice, and it received a scathing letter from the U.S. Federal Reserve over deficient controls last year. BaFin has initiated a probe of Deutsche Bank over private communications and the lender is facing a similar investigation in the US, Bloomberg has reported.

(Updates with Fixler statement in 10th paragraph.)

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