© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: The headquarters of Germany’s Deutsche Bank are pictured in Frankfurt, Germany, September 21, 2020. REUTERS/Ralph Orlowski
By Tom Sims, John O’Donnell and Frank Siebelt
FRANKFURT (Reuters) – Deutsche Bank (DE:) faced stinging criticism from some investors and politicians on Friday for its ongoing ties to Russia after saying that leaving would go against its values, as other banks cut off links with the country.
Germany’s largest bank has resisted pressure to sever ties after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, arguing that it needs to support multinational firms doing business in Russia.
Goldman Sachs (NYSE:) and JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:) said on Thursday they were unwinding their Russian businesses, becoming the first major U.S. banks to exit after Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine and putting pressure on rivals to follow.,
“We are often asked why we are not withdrawing completely from Russia. The answer is that this would go against our values,” Chief Executive Christian Sewing said in a note to Deutsche Bank staff on Thursday.
“We have clients who cannot exit Russia overnight.”
Bill Browder, an investor who has spent years campaigning to expose corruption in Russia, said that Deutsche Bank staying “is completely at odds with the international business community and will create backlash, lost reputation and business in the West.”
“I would be surprised if they are able to maintain this position as the situation in Ukraine continues to deteriorate,” Browder told Reuters.
The criticism came as Russian forces bearing down on Kyiv were regrouping northwest of the Ukrainian capital and Britain said that Moscow could now be planning an assault on the city within days.
Fabio De Masi, a former member of the Bundestag and a prominent campaigner against financial crime, said that Deutsche Bank had close ties to the Russian elite, many of whom faced sanctions and that the relationship, where it involved criminal Russian activity, had to end.
Deutsche Bank has said that it has pared down its Russian footprint in recent years, but this week disclosed 2.9 billion euros in credit risk to the country.
It also operates a technology centre with about 1,500 employees in Russia and opened a new main office in Moscow in December, which it said at the time represented “a significant investment and commitment to the Russian market”.
Asked about the criticism of its decision to stay, Deutsche Bank repeated a statement it would comply with sanctions and that it was “monitoring the situation closely”, adding that it may adapt its approach “as appropriate”.
Tim Ash, senior emerging market sovereign strategist at BlueBay Asset Management, said, “Just not good enough from DB.”
“Perhaps DB (Deutsche Bank) needs to take a fresh look at its own ESG framework,” he said, referring to environmental, social, and governance investing criteria.
Russia has landed Deutsche Bank in hot water in the past.
The U.S. Department of Justice has been investigating it for years over trades that authorities said were used to launder $10 billion out of Russia, which has led to the German bank being fined nearly $700 million.
Deutsche Bank said on Friday that the DOJ probe “is understood to be ongoing”.
The row over Russia comes as Deutsche Bank disclosed in its annual report that it paid Sewing 8.8 million euros ($9.68 million) in 2021, a 20% increase from a year earlier.
Overall, the lender paid 14% more, or 2.1 billion euros, in bonuses for 2021, rewarding staff for the bank’s most profitable year in a decade.
($1 = 0.9088 euros)