Credit Suisse Spy Defends Surveillance of Star Banker

By Bloomberg
September 25, 2019 Updated: September 25, 2019

The Credit Suisse Group AG spying scandal that has rocked Swiss financial circles took a new turn on Sept. 24, with the private investigator hired by the bank giving its own version how it shadowed former star banker Iqbal Khan.
The details emerging show Credit Suisse hired a local company that offers cash collection, investigations and security services, asking it to take photos of Khan and identify any people he met, while avoiding getting too close to the target, according to a report sent to the bank and seen by Bloomberg.

But the private security firm, named Investigo GmbH, said its employee was acting alone and “defensively,” contradicting earlier accounts that several private detectives followed Khan and tried to take away his mobile phone. The company was asked not to break the law, for example by trespassing.

The report paints a slightly more nuanced version of a scandal Credit Suisse is now scrambling to contain. Switzerland’s second biggest bank has launched an investigation into the surveillance of its former star banker. The affair has shaken the reputation for quiet professionalism that the country and its wealth managers have long enjoyed, and cast a spotlight on the cutthroat competition for the assets of wealthy clients.

The scandal has also raised questions about Credit Suisse’s decision and who authorized the operation. Stung when he left for its biggest rival, Credit Suisse decided to keep tabs on Khan before he joined UBS in October to prevent him from poaching private bankers, according to people familiar with the matter.

The security firm’s version of events contrasts with those that emerged over the weekend. Khan, on leave before he is due to join UBS as co-head of wealth management on Oct. 1, was followed by unidentified men while driving his car with his wife last week, several people briefed on the events said previously. He eventually noticed that he was being followed and took pictures of his pursuers, which led to a physical confrontation in downtown Zurich when the men tried to take away his mobile phone, the people said.

The Zurich prosecutor has launched criminal proceedings in response to a complaint from Khan.

According to the security firm, its employee was alone and had just parked his car near Zurich’s main shopping street, Bahnhofstrasse, when Khan approached him. The banker called out loudly and gesticulated, and tried to photograph the private detective with his cell phone, according to the firm’s account. The employee then raised his hands in the direction of the phone, asking not to be photographed, before moving on, Investigo said.

Investigo, based in Otelfingen, a 25-minute drive outside the Swiss financial capital, is led by brothers Swen and Cyrill van Altena, according to the Zurich companies register, which describes its activities as cash collection, investigations and security services for people and objects. The firm is frequently hired to check on people suspected of abusing welfare benefits and counts local governments in the cantons of Zurich and Aargau among clients, it wrote in an invite to a reception in 2015.

‘Facts and Events’

A lawyer for Investigo declined to comment, as did a spokesman for Credit Suisse.

Credit Suisse in an internal memo to employees yesterday said media coverage of the incidents contained inaccuracies and “sensationalized both facts and events.”

Zurich city police declined to comment on the case, referring questions to the Zurich prosecutor, which has also declined to comment beyond confirming an ongoing investigation.

The private investigator’s account, as well as who hired the firm and why, are likely to be included in the probe which will report back to Chairman Urs Rohner.