Horta-Osório resigns at Credit Suisse over Covid breaches

Banker was made chairman just nine months ago to restore bank’s reputation after scandals

António Horta-Osório has resigned as chairman of Credit Suisse after a board investigation found that he had breached coronavirus quarantine rules more than once.

The former chief executive of Lloyds Banking Group had been in the post for just eight months and had promised to restore the Swiss bank's reputation following a spate of high-profile scandals.

Yet Mr Horta-Osório’s personal conduct became the subject of a board-level investigation at the end of last year after he was found to have breached quarantine rules on at least two occasions.

After the report was finalised Mr Horta-Osório held discussions with the bank’s board over the weekend about his decision to quit, according to a person briefed on the talks.

“I regret that a number of my personal actions have led to difficulties for the bank and compromised my ability to represent the bank internally and externally,” Mr Horta-Osório said in a statement on Sunday night. “I therefore believe that my resignation is in the interest of the bank and its stakeholders at this crucial time.”

Axel Lehmann, the former chief operating officer and head of the Swiss business at UBS, has been drafted in as the new chair of Credit Suisse. He joined the bank's board in October.

“By executing our strategic plan in a timely and disciplined manner, without distraction, I am convinced that Credit Suisse will demonstrate the renewed strength and business focus needed to generate sustainable value for all of our stakeholders,” Mr Lehmann said.

Wimbledon

Mr Horta-Osório was found to have breached the UK's quarantine rules when he flew to London and subsequently watched the Wimbledon tennis finals on July 10th and July 11th. At the time, Switzerland was on the UK's "amber" list of nations facing restrictions, with travellers required to isolate for 10 days on arrival.

In a later incident Mr Horta-Osório broke Swiss Covid rules when he flew in and out of the country within three days. He had travelled from London to Zurich on November 28th, shortly after a 10-day quarantine requirement was introduced in Switzerland following the identification of the Omicron variant.

Mr Horta-Osório apologised for the “mistake” and characterised the breach as “unintentional”.

However, the Swiss newspaper Blick reported that he initially sought exemptions from both the local canton and federal government, but was told he would receive no special treatment and would need to isolate for the full 10 days.

Credit Suisse was roiled by twin scandals involving Greensill Capital and family office Archegos in the weeks leading up to Mr Horta-Osório's appointment as chair last April.

Since assuming the role the Portuguese banker, who was knighted in Queen Elizabeth II's birthday honours last June, has talked about being "committed to developing a culture of personal responsibility and accountability" at the bank.

But the negative publicity surrounding his Covid breaches took attention away from a strategic review he announced in November.

“The most important thing this bank needs is for it to be quiet,” said a Credit Suisse executive. “What happened around him was not helpful.” – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2022