Austrian financier Alexander Schütz, who has been a member of Deutsche Bank’s supervisory board since 2017, sent an email to Mr Braun in February 2019 in which he called on Wirecard’s boss to show “more dedication” in rebutting the FT’s reporting on the group.
At the time, Wirecard was pushing back strongly against the coverage. The email, seen by the Financial Times, was sent a few weeks after an FT report into whistleblower allegations of accounting manipulation at Wirecard’s Asian business.
“I read in the FT what a naughty boy you are ;-)”, Mr Schütz wrote to Mr Braun, adding he had bought shares in Wirecard the previous week. In the email, which mainly discussed a potential joint holiday, Mr Schütz urged Mr Braun to “do this newspaper in!! :-).”
Mr Braun replied that he had cancelled his subscription to the newspaper but was confident that the discussion over potential misconduct at Wirecard “will quickly move in a different direction”.
The email emerged in the early hours of Friday morning at the latest hearing of Germany’s parliamentary inquiry into the collapse of Wirecard, which imploded last June in one of the country’s largest postwar accounting frauds.
As well as questioning Wirecard’s auditors, lenders and management, MPs have been examining thousands of documents handed over by the payment provider’s administrator, government agencies and other institutions.
The once-lauded payments group was quick to intimidate critics, spying on some and subjecting them to hacking attacks. In March 2019, Wirecard filed a lawsuit against the FT, seeking financial compensation over the alleged use and misrepresentation of business secrets.
Mr Schütz, who joined the supervisory board when Chinese conglomerate HNA took a stake in Deutsche Bank, said on Friday that he apologised for the comments in the email.
“I believed Mr Braun in early 2019 that Wirecard was an honourable company which was wrongfully defamed,” Mr Schütz said in a statement, adding that, at the time, he believed short sellers had started a press campaign against the company.
“In the meantime, it has become clear that I was wrong. Hence I formally apologise to the FT and its reporters for this emotional and inappropriate statement.” The newspaper made a significant contribution to the uncovering of the scandal, said Mr Schütz, adding that “the team around Dan McCrum deserves credit for this”.
Deutsche Bank said that the bank had only learnt about the email early on Friday, when chief executive Christian Sewing was asked about it by MPs as he testified to the inquiry. Mr Sewing declined to comment to MPs.
In a statement later on Friday, Deutsche Bank said “as a matter of principle, we do not comment on private statements made by members of the supervisory board.” But “irrespective of this, both the content and the attitude of the quoted statement are unacceptable — regardless of who it comes from”.
Jens Zimmermann, an MP for the Social Democrats, described Mr Schütz’s comments as “rather revealing” and that “the doubts [over Mr Schütz], which were cast in 2017 by circumstances of his appointment to the supervisory board, seem to have been justified.”
Mr Schütz is a longtime friend and business associate of Christian Angermayer, the German financier who played a key role in helping HNA amass its stake in Deutsche Bank. The conglomerate has since disposed of its stake.
As well as investing in a number of businesses with Mr Schütz, Mr Angermayer also brokered SoftBank’s €900m investment in Wirecard in 2019.
A lawyer for Mr Braun did not immediately respond to a request to comment.
With additional reporting by Robert Smith in London