Julius Baer International (JBI), a U.K.-based investment and wealth management subsidiary of Swiss-based Julius Baer Group, will pay more than 18 million pounds (U.S. $21.5 million) to settle charges laid by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) for paying bribes to generate business with a Russian oil company.
While JBI agreed to settle with the FCA, three of its former employees—Gustavo Raitzin, Thomas Seiler, and Louise Whitestone—decided to have their cases heard in court, the regulator said in a press release Wednesday.
The FCA alleged in addition to failing to conduct business with integrity, JBI failed to take “reasonable care to organize and control its affairs.” The firm was faulted for not being “open and cooperative” with the regulator because it delayed notification of the alleged bribery scheme for two years.
Still, it earned a discount from a penalty of nearly £24.5 million (U.S. $29 million) for settling at an early stage.
The FCA’s allegations stem from a finder’s fee arrangement between JBI and an employee of Yukos, a now-defunct Russian oil company. The regulator alleged in its final notice JBI paid Yukos employee Dimitri Merinson approximately $3 million over several years to steer large foreign exchange transactions from Yukos to JBI, generating “unusually high levels of commission.”
The violations occurred from 2007-14, the FCA said. In 2012, concerns from within JBI were raised to senior management that the company’s finder’s fee arrangement with Merinson might constitute bribery.
“Despite these concerns being raised, JBI failed to report them to the authority and continued to discuss doing further business with Mr. Merinson and other Yukos representatives until March 2014,” the FCA’s notice said. JBI did not notify the FCA of the alleged bribery scheme until May 2014.
“There were obvious signs that the relationships here were corrupt, which senior individuals saw and ignored,” said FCA Executive Director of Enforcement and Market Oversight Mark Steward in the press release. “These weaknesses create the circumstances in which financial crime of the most serious kind can flourish.”
The FCA’s decisions on the individuals whom it alleged were involved in the scheme will be reviewed by the U.K.’s Upper Tribunal.
Whitestone, who was employed as a London-based relationship manager on JBI’s Russian and Eastern European Desk, is accused of negotiating the finder’s fee arrangements with Merinson. Seiler, the sub-regional market head for Russia and Eastern Europe at Bank Julius Baer (BJB) in Switzerland from 2008-14, allegedly approved the arrangement. Raitzin, the regional head for Latin America, Spain, Russia, Central and Eastern Europe, and Israel at BJB from January 2010 until March 2011, allegedly approved the first two payments to Merinson.
In a statement, JBI said it “deeply regrets and apologizes for the events and shortcomings that led to today’s final notice.” The company cooperated with the investigation, including sharing the results of its own internal investigation into the alleged scheme.
“This independent investigation informed the FCA’s findings and has led to significant changes to the company’s leadership, governance, systems, and processes, including that JBI no longer accepts any finders’ business,” the statement said.
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