Deutsche Bank’s DWS orders new investigation into greenwash allegations

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Deutsche Bank AG’s asset management unit is starting a new review of whistleblower green laundering allegations, as regulatory investigations in the United States and Germany continue.

DWS Group has now hired U.S. law firm Sullivan & Cromwell to re-assess the allegations, according to people familiar with the matter who have asked not to be identified to discuss private information. The move comes as the Securities and Exchange Commission, German watchdog BaFin, and the US Department of Justice are investigating DWS over claims made by its former sustainability chief, Desiree Fixler.

DWS has engaged the law firm to represent it in its dealings with the SEC, and the scope of the assessment goes beyond Fixler’s allegations, one person said.

Investors learned just over a month ago that regulators were investigating DWS, which fired Fixler just before releasing an annual report containing environmental, social and governance figures that it said were exaggerated. The case sent shockwaves through the asset management community as the industry wakes up to a more aggressive regulatory environment after years of unhindered growth in the ESG market.

DWS, which has consistently dismissed the allegations, initially asked PwC to conduct a review which found the fund manager had not engaged in greenwashing. A spokesperson for DWS declined to comment.

DWS also hired PWC earlier in the year to complete an “ESG advisory business venture” while still at the company, Fixler told Bloomberg in a message. A spokesperson for PWC declined to comment.

BaFin has contacted Deutsche Bank, which owns around 80% of the investment unit, about the role played by the lender’s chairman, Karl von Rohr, Bloomberg reported. Von Rohr chairs the supervisory board of DWS and, in that capacity, has approved the annual report which is currently under investigation for allegations of greenwashing.

Von Rohr helped make PwC’s assessment mandatory after Fixler sent him an email outlining his allegations shortly after his dismissal in March, Bloomberg reported.

DWS cited the PWC report as a defense when it responded to a Wall Street Journal article in early August that first reported Fixler’s allegations. He has since stopped referring to the assessment in his public communications, although the spokesperson declined to say why.

Allegations of greenwashing have put DWS and Deutsche Bank on the defensive as they attempt to promote themselves as champions of sustainability. Deutsche Bank CEO Christian Sewing has made it clear that he wants the company to lead the $ 35 trillion ESG market as a key path to revenue growth.

(Add information about PwC from Desiree Fixler in seventh paragraph)

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