Deutsche Bank alerted Germany’s financial crime watchdog to a €160,000 payment made by a client to one of its most senior bankers, which the men later explained was part of a failed attempt to buy a Porsche.
Asoka Wöhrmann, then head of Deutsche’s private client business in Germany, received the money in 2018 from Daniel Wruck, managing director of Ice Field Dry Ice Engineering, a company that cleans chemical plants, according to documents seen by the Financial Times and people familiar with the matter. Wöhrmann has since become chief executive of asset manager DWS.
As well as taking the highly unusual step of filing a suspicious activity report on a transaction involving one of its own bankers, Deutsche has recently widened an internal investigation into the matter, according to people familiar with the situation.
After the payment to Wöhrmann was discovered in late 2018, it emerged that he had first transferred €160,000 to Wruck in September 2017. Both Wruck and Wöhrmann told the FT that the money was supposed to be used by Wruck to buy a new Porsche Panamera on behalf of Wöhrmann.
“As a friend — and because he was personally known to the Porsche dealer — [Wruck] offered to help with the configuration and the order of the car,” a lawyer representing Wruck told the FT, adding that Wöhrmann therefore wired the discussed amount to be spent on the car to Wruck.
Documents seen by the FT showed that Wruck at the time was in the process of ordering a new Panamera for himself. In July 2017, he told his dealer by email that Wöhrmann was his “friend” and “needs to get the same killer price [as I get]!!!!!”.
A day before wiring €160,000 to Wruck, Wöhrmann first sent it directly to the Frankfurt Porsche dealership, which refunded it immediately as no order or invoice existed, documents seen by the FT showed.
Porsche said that buyers of a new vehicle normally did not have to pay anything until they were invoiced two to three weeks before delivery.
In September 2018, 12 months after Wöhrmann transferred the €160,000 in a transaction labelled “DW vehicle”, Wruck wired the same amount back to Wöhrmann, according to documents seen by the FT.
A lawyer for Wruck said that her client had been unable to transfer the money for the car to the dealership “because Porsche wanted to receive the money directly from the prospective owner” and hence refunded the cash to Wöhrmann.
Ultimately, Wöhrmann did not buy a new vehicle via Wruck but, in April 2018, signed a contract himself with the dealership for a used Panamera Turbo priced at €139,500. The DWS boss paid for the car himself in August, when he also picked it up.
Neither man explained why it took 12 months for Wruck to repay the €160,000 that was not ultimately used to buy a car.
At the time of the payments, Wruck and Wöhrmann were both involved in joint venture negotiations over Auto1 FinTech, a start-up initially backed by Deutsche, Allianz, Auto1 and outside investors.
Wruck’s payment to Wöhrmann was spotted by Deutsche Bank’s anti-financial crime unit and reported to the Financial Intelligence Unit, according to four people familiar with the matter. The FIU and markets regulator BaFin declined to comment.
Deutsche told the FT that it never commented on the existence of suspicious activity reports. “It is important to understand that SARs are alerts of potential suspicions and are not conclusions that any wrongdoing has occurred,” the bank said. “If and to the extent there are indications of wrongdoing, we look into it.”
A senior compliance officer at Deutsche raised the matter with Wöhrmann, who explained the Porsche background, according to people familiar with the bank’s evaluation of the issue. Deutsche decided there was no evidence of illegal conduct but informally “admonished” Wöhrmann for acting unwisely, these people said.
The bank’s compliance staff have recently revisited the matter, screening Wöhrmann’s bank accounts. He declared in an affidavit that he had never received any other payments from people linked to the Auto1 FinTech joint venture, the people said.
DWS told the FT in a statement that Wöhrmann “strenuously rejects insinuations connected to his time as head of the German private bank of Deutsche Bank”.
The bank last summer also looked at Wöhrmann’s use of a personal email account during the Auto1 FinTech negotiation, after Süddeutsche Zeitung flagged four business-related emails from a GMX address, a free German email service.
The lender’s code of conduct stipulated that “only Deutsche Bank-approved communications devices and applications may be used for the conduct of any bank business whether by email, chat or other electronic messaging”.
After the Süddeutsche Zeitung inquiry, the lender deemed those emails isolated events and innocuous.
However, people involved in the Auto1 FinTech talks told the FT that Wöhrmann relied on his GMX account for months. “At least 50, if not 100” messages, including terms sheets, the business plan and other confidential information were sent to the account, according to one person familiar with the matter. Wöhrmann also used it to send emails sharing his views with the rest of the group, the people said.
Deutsche has stepped up the probe into the email usage and the Porsche payments after it “received new information”, a person familiar with the matter said.
DWS said that its chief executive had, in his previous role, “facilitated the talks of the involved parties of Auto 1 FinTech” and that he represented “the interests of Deutsche Bank at all times and instances”. The company declined to comment on the details of the money flows and the potential violations of Deutsche’s email policies.