Commerzbank chairman hopeful resigns over cum-ex share-trade probe - sources

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Andreas Schmitz has resigned with immediate effect from Commerzbank’s supervisory board, the bank announced on Thursday, just days after banking sources said he was in the running to take over as chairman of Germany’s No. 2 lender.

The bank declined to comment further on the reasons for Schmitz’s sudden resignation but seven sources told Reuters it was related to an investigation into his alleged past involvement in a German share trading scheme known as cum-ex.

The sources, who include bankers, either have direct knowledge of the events or have been briefed on the matter.

Commerzbank’s largest shareholder, the German government, lost confidence in Schmitz, who was appointed to the supervisory board on Jan. 1 and resigned following a meeting of the oversight body’s members on Wednesday, six of the people said.

The so-called cum-ex trading scheme which took place more than a decade ago has been the subject of one of Germany’s biggest post-war fraud investigations, involving numerous bankers, global banks, and their advisors.

Schmitz, a former HSBC manager, has been under investigation along with dozens of others since 2016 for activity that ended in 2011, two of the sources told Reuters, but it is the first time his name has been publicly linked to the scheme.

Commerzbank’s search for a new chairman began last week after the resignation for health reasons of Hans-Joerg Vetter, with banking sources telling Reuters at the time that Schmitz was a possible candidate.

The bank said on Thursday it would as a result of the vacancies now postpone its shareholder meeting, which was planned for May 5, adding that it was continuing to implement its new strategy despite the delay to the annual gathering.

German prosecutors say the cum-ex scheme’s participants misled the government into thinking a stock had multiple owners on its dividend payday, who were each owed a dividend and a tax credit. Authorities say the scheme cost the state billions of euros in rebates that should not have been paid.

A spokesman for HSBC Deutschland confirmed that it was under investigation but was cooperating. The bank has always denied that it participated in the trading scheme, the spokesman said.

Reporting by Tom Sims, Arno Schuetze, Matthias Inverardi, Alexander Huebner, Elke Ahlswede, and Hans Seidenstuecker; Editing by Riham Alkousaa and Thomas Escritt and Kirsten Donovan