Another day, another financial firm accepts a fine while protesting it has done nothing wrong.
Deutsche Boerse AG has strenuously denied allegations CEO Carsten Kengeter dabbled in insider trading and the company breached disclosure rules when he purchased shares in the exchange not long before it revealed it was in talks to merge with London Stock Exchange Group Plc last year. Kengeter, too, has said the allegations will be shown to be unfounded.
Rather than fight on to clear the boss's name and that of the company, Deutsche Boerse moved to end the probe on Thursday by paying a 10.5 million-euro ($12.5 million) fine with shareholders' funds. Kengeter himself may have to pay an additional penalty, according to Bloomberg News. Deutsche Boerse said it continues to believe the allegations are unfounded.
No one comes out of this well.
Kengeter purchased the stock back in December 2015, enabling him to qualify for matching shares issued by the company. At issue is whether the purchases took place while he was in possession of price-sensitive information that wasn't yet public, and whether the company should have disclosed the purchases sooner than the publication of the annual report. The LSE deal talks leaked in February 2016.
The imbroglio has been dragging on and the costs were mounting. The biggest cost to shareholders could be the subsequent collapse of the tie-up with the LSE. EU regulators wanted big remedies to make the deal happen. The result of the Brexit referendum made that transaction more difficult, but arguably the cloud over Kengeter -- who was to lead the combination -- made it all look like too much hard work.
The other cost is management time and distraction. That is Deutsche Boerse's explanation for accepting the prosecutor's deal to end the probe. It wants to get back to business.
If the company thinks it has a strong case, settling is wrong in principle. The lack of a clear acquittal leaves a cloud over both company and CEO, whether deserved or not. It may be bad business, too: any one seeing the chance to get Deutsche Boerse bogged down in litigation will be emboldened to try it on.
If the company made a stupid mistake by structuring an incentive plan that got its CEO into hot water, someone should be held accountable.
As for Frankfurt, a high-profile case ending in money changing hands but no clarification over whether anyone did anything wrong hardly burnishes its regulatory credentials as it seeks to become Europe's main financial center.
The arrangement between the company and the prosecutor needs to be approved by the courts. It ain't over yet.
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