Credit Suisse chairman Antonio Horta-Osorio resigns after breaking Covid-19 rules

Mr Horta-Osorio, who was appointed as chairman in April, resigned following an investigation commissioned by the board. PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE (BLOOMBERG) - Credit Suisse Group’s chairman Antonio Horta-Osorio resigned after just nine months in the role, following a series of missteps including reported breaches of Swiss and UK quarantine rules that eroded confidence in his leadership.

His departure follows an investigation commissioned by the board, Zurich-based Credit Suisse said in a statement on Monday (Jan 17). The bank named board member Axel P. Lehmann as Mr Horta-Osorio’s replacement, effective immediately. 

The sudden exit follows a disastrous year at Credit Suisse, in which the twin scandals of Greensill Capital and Archegos Capital Management cost the bank more than US$5 billion (S$6.7 billion) and slashed the stock by a fifth. The former Lloyds Banking Group  chief executive officer had joined the bank with a mandate to repair the damage and revamp the risk-taking culture at the Swiss lender.

Details of Mr Horta-Osorio’s quarantine breaches first emerged little more than a month ago, revealing that he had returned to Switzerland from Britain on Nov 28 and left for the Iberian peninsula before a mandated 10-day period of quarantine was over. 

The bank at the time said it “regretfully acknowledged” that Mr Horta-Osorio breached quarantine rules by leaving Switzerland before his period of isolation was over.

An apparent earlier quarantine break, in July 2021, emerged in the course of an internal investigation into the Swiss breach. The executive had visited the Wimbledon tennis finals in London during that month, in contravention of UK Covid regulations at the time, Reuters reported.

“I regret that a number of my personal actions have led to difficulties for the bank and compromised my ability to represent the bank internally and externally,” Mr Horta-Osorio said in the statement. “I therefore believe that my resignation is in the interest of the bank and its stakeholders at this crucial time.” 

Mr Horta-Osorio was widely seen as providing a firm, steadying hand at Credit Suisse after his tenure at Lloyds saved the UK bank from the brink of bankruptcy. But his departure may destabilise Credit Suisse further after he was brought in to work on the bank’s culture. 

Mr Lehmann was elected to Credit Suisse’s board in October and had been serving as chair of the risk committee. He joined the bank from rival UBS Group, where his roles included running the Swiss personal and corporate banking business. Before that, Mr Lehmann spent nearly two decades at Zurich Insurance Group in roles that included chief risk officer.

The board will formally propose him for election as chairman at an annual shareholder meeting on April 29.

“We have set the right course with the new strategy and will continue to embed a stronger risk culture across the firm,” Mr Lehmann said in the statement. 

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