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DWS chief resigns after police raid over greenwashing claims

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The chief executive of Germany’s top asset management firm DWS Group has resigned hours after the company’s offices in Frankfurt were raided and evidence was seized by police investigating claims of greenwashing.

DWS said in a statement on Wednesday morning that Asoka Wöhrmann, chief executive since late 2018, would step down as of June 10, the day after the group’s annual shareholders ’meeting.

He will be replaced by Stefan Hoops, previously head of the corporate bank at Deutsche Bank, DWS’s majority owner, which holds an 80 per cent stake.

Hoops, who has been with Deutsche for his entire career and is close to its chief executive Christian Sewing, will be replaced in the turn by British-born David Lynne, who currently heads Deutsche’s corporate business in the Asia-Pacific region.

The departure of Wöhrmann, another ally of Sewing and once Deutsche’s most senior retail banker in Germany, comes amid rising scrutiny of DWS after allegations of greenwashing by a whistleblower. It is also yet another setback for Deutsche as it attempts to move on from a decade of scandals and multibillion-euro losses.

The executive reshuffle followed a raid by about 50 German police at the offices of DWS and Deutsche in downtown Frankfurt on Tuesday as part of an investigation into potential prospect fraud at the asset manager. Investigators confirmed that they had seized several items of evidence, including documents and electronic media, which were now being evaluated.

The search involved public prosecutors from Frankfurt, federal police and officials from the German financial regulator BaFin.

BaFin launched an investigation into DWS last year, following a similar probe by the US Securities and Exchange Commission, which was prompted by allegations from former DWS executive Desiree Fixler.

Fixler said the company had made thinking statements in its 2020 annual report over claims that more than half of the group’s $ 900bn assets were invested using environmental, social and governance criteria.

DWS has denied any wrongdoing, but has changed its ESG criteria since Fixler’s revelations. In its 2021 annual report, published in March 2022, DWS reported just € 115bn in “ESG assets” for 2021 – 75 per cent less than a year earlier when it stated that € 459bn in assets were “ESG integrated”.

The group’s shares had fallen 6.2 per cent by the close of trading in Frankfurt on Wednesday, while Deutsche’s shares were down less than 1 per cent.

The ESG industry is facing a growing chorus of criticism by regulators and investment professionals, including about the methods by which assets are assessed.

Recent analysis of rating agencies found they used divergent criteria to size up ESG investments and the US securities regulator is poised to crack down on exaggerated ESG credentials in investment products, preparing standards for the sustainable funds industry that has boomed to almost $ 3tn.

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HSBC’s asset management unit recently suspended its global head of responsible investing after he accused central bankers and policymakers of overstating the financial risks of climate change in an attempt to “out-hyperbole the next guy”.

Wöhrmann’s replacement comes a few months after the Financial Times revealed that Deutsche was investigating a € 160,000 payment made by a client to the senior banker, when he was head of the lender’s private client business. The executive said the transfer was part of a failed attempt to buy a Porsche.

Wöhrmann has also faced criticism over his use of a personal email address for business purposes during his time at Deutsche.

In a statement released by DWS, Wöhrmann said he was leaving “to clear the way for a fresh start”, as “allegations made against DWS and myself in the past months have become a burden for the company, as well as for my family”.

Karl von Rohr, chair of DWS, said Wöhrmann had played a “major role” in the bank’s asset management operation in recent years. “Under his leadership, DWS has expanded its market position and performed well in a recently challenging environment,” he said.

Sewing, who had stood by Wöhrmann, said he wanted to thank him “for his impressive work and performance for DWS and Deutsche Bank”.

Wöhrmann’s total remuneration increased by 15 per cent to € 6.9mn last year, despite the group losing € 1bn in market capitalization in a single day after investigations by US law enforcement authorities were made public.

Additional reporting by Owen Walker

Climate Capital

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