By Suzi Ring
A former Commerzbank AG executive said in a London employment lawsuit that he was told to “shut up,” harassed and eventually let go after he blew the whistle on corporate misconduct at the German lender.
Najam Khan, who was head of corporate finance and Middle East Islamic finance in Dubai, said the bank ignored his repeated concerns over the lender’s failures to properly separate the private and public sides of the business, according to his statement in the employment tribunal case Thursday. Khan said a 2016 layoff was used to terminate him after he flagged the issues.
Khan said that his superior, global head of corporate finance Roman Schmidt, rebuked his attempts to point out that the bank’s units weren’t adequately divided. Banks are required to split the business areas to avoid information sharing that could lead to conflicts of interest or insider trading ahead of deals.
“Roman told me to ‘shut up’ as he was not interested,” Khan said in the witness statement that was released on the first day of the trial Thursday.
The private side of a bank, as characterized by Khan, interacts directly with clients on trades and deals such as mergers or acquisitions and therefore has access to non-public information. The public side includes areas such as research where the flow of information is available to anyone.
Khan said that after raising the concerns his expenses were curbed and bonuses reduced. On a trip to Turkey he was forced to fly economy when his junior colleagues flew business class. His bonuses fell from about 100,000 pounds ($129,000) in 2013 to 20,000 pounds in 2015.
Lawyers for the bank questioned Khan’s testimony, saying there was no evidence to support his whistle-blowing allegations, including his claim that a client complained about compliance issues.
“There isn’t a single email which touches on the issue of client A or any complaint,” said Simon Gorton, a lawyer for the bank.
Gorton told the tribunal that, according to Schmidt, Khan raised the separation issues only after his office on the private side of the business was taken away. Gorton said Khan’s grievances were related to status, not compliance.
Khan is also suing over racial discrimination allegations. Witnesses for the bank, including Schmidt, are scheduled to appear later in the trial.
Frankfurt-based Commerzbank said in a statement that the lawsuit was without merit.
“Commerzbank does not tolerate workplace discrimination of any sort,” the lender said.
Gorton also showed the tribunal emails discussing the Turkey trip. The person responsible for approving Khan’s flights said business class cost three times more than economy, but told Khan it was “up to you.”
Khan claimed the bank was cherry-picking emails and further disclosure would show he was pushed to fly economy when others weren’t.