Why are so many bankers committing suicide?
Three bankers in New York, London and Siena, Italy, died within 17 months of each other in 2013-14 in what authorities deemed a series of unrelated suicides. But in each case, the victim had a connection to a burgeoning global banking scandal, leaving more questions than answers as to the circumstances surrounding their deaths.
The March 6, 2013 death of David Rossi — a 51-year-old communications director at Monte dei Paschi di Siena, the world’s oldest bank — came as the institution teetered on the brink of collapse.
Rossi was found dead in an alleyway beneath his third-floor office window in the 14th-century palazzo that served as the bank’s headquarters.
A devastating security video shows Rossi landing on the pavement on his back, facing the building — an odd position more likely to occur when a body is pushed from a window.
The footage shows the three-story fall didn’t kill Rossi instantly. For almost 20 minutes, the banker lay on the dimly lit cobblestone, occasionally moving an arm and leg.
As he lay dying, two murky figures appear. Two men appear and one walks over to gaze at the banker. He offers no aid or comfort and doesn’t call for help before turning around and calmly walking out of the alley.
About an hour later, a co-worker discovered Rossi’s body. The arms were bruised and he sustained a head wound that, according to the local medical examiner’s report, suggested there may have been a struggle prior to his fall.
But the death was ruled a suicide to the disbelief of Rossi’s widow, Antonella Tognazzi. She was quoted in the Italian press as saying her husband “knew too much.” She staged public demonstrations and hired a lawyer to investigate her husband’s death.
Among the evidence Tognazzi pointed to was the alleged suicide note, in which Rossi referred to her as Toni. He never called her Toni, she said.
Two days prior to his death, according to his wife, Rossi sent a cryptic email to the bank’s CEO Fabrizio Viola. “I want guarantees of not being overwhelmed by this thing,” he wrote. “We would have to do right away, before tomorrow. Can you help me?”
It remains a mystery what specifically Rossi thought could “overwhelm” him just before his death, but many have speculated that he was referring to Monte Paschi’s troubled financial position.
Rossi was a close confidant to former bank president Joseph Mussari, who was the driving force behind Monte Paschi’s 2008 $7.5 billion takeover of Banca Antonveneta. Many banking analysts agreed at the time that Monte Paschi paid too much in the acquisition that Deutsche Bank financed.
The same year as Rossi’s death, European and US regulators began to probe what would become known as the Libor scandal, in which London bankers conspired to rig the London Interbank Offered Rate — an overnight interest rate that determines the interest banks charged on mortgages, and auto and personal loans across the globe. It also determines the rate banks like Monte Paschi pay for loans like the one it used to finance the purchase of Banca Antonveneta. The scandal would cost international banks — most notably Deutsche — nearly $20 billion in fines.
Additionally, Monte Paschi got involved in risky derivatives that took heavy losses during the financial crisis of 2008. The esteemed bank, founded 20 years before Christopher Columbus crossed the Atlantic, was being investigated at the time of Rossi’s death for its handling of billions in these risky derivative bets involving Deutsche Bank and Merrill Lynch.
In October 2014 Mussari and two other Monte Paschi executives were convicted by Italian authorities for obstructing regulators and misleading investigators on the bailed-out Italian bank’s finances in the wake of the acquisition of Banca Antonveneta. In January of this year, three executive from Deustche Bank were also implicated civilly, including Michele Faissola, the wealth management director the German bank—charged by Italian authorities of colluding with the troubled Monte Paschi in falsifying accounts, manipulating the market, and obstructing justice. Faissola denies these charges.
While at least 40 bankers have killed themselves in the 17-month period starting March 2013 in the wake of the global banking scandal, the circumstances of Rossi’s death — and two others — stand out as particularly mysterious.
In January 2014, the body of William Broeksmit, 58, a high-ranking Deutsche Bank executive, was found hanging in his London flat from a dog leash tied to the top of a door.
Financial papers were strewn about, and on a dog bed near the body were a number of notes to family and friends. One was addressed to Deutsche Bank CEO Anshu Jain, with an apology. But that note — never publicly revealed until now — offered no clue as to the reason he was sorry.
Broeksmit’s high-ranking colleague at Deutche was Michele Faissola, who arrived on the gruesome scene after Broeksmit’s wife told his stepson, Val Broeksmit, to phone him. He arrived minutes later, and began going through the bank papers and read the suicide notes.
“He did go to my father’s computer which was, at the time, I thought a little weird,” said Val Broeksmit.
There is no evidence Faissola was involved in any misconduct related to Broeksmit’s death, but the stepson said he still wonders what, if anything, Faissola was searching for. Faissola declined comment.
In emails provided to The Post by his stepson Val, Broeksmit had just messaged friends about his excitement to go on a ski vacation scheduled for a week later.
Although a report from Broeksmit’s clinical psychologist revealed that Broeksmit was “very anxious about authorities investigating areas of the bank at which he worked,” his depression over the Libor investigation the year before seemed to have lifted, according to a doctor who’d given him a clean bill of health a month before his death, said his stepson. Val found other unsettling facts while going over his father’s personal papers and e-mails.
“Yes he killed himself,” Val Broeksmit told The Post. “But there’s a question: could it be suicide by extortion, could it be suicide by pressure or saying if you don’t do this, we’re going to do this? There’s a couple suspicions I have.”
In early 2013, Jain planned to make Broeksmit chief risk officer for the entire bank. He was an expert in the esoteric field of derivatives, of which Deutsche had roughly $60 trillion worth on its books. But German banking regulators nixed the appointment because it said he lacked the requisite experience.
Broeksmit left the bank in June, but a few months later took a position in New York as a director of Deutsche Bank Trust Company of America, the US arm of the German banking giant. It was his reward for his long service after butting heads with German banking authorities.
DBTCA was the former Banker’s Trust, which Deutsche bought in 1998. It’s the custodial arm for wealthy clients to park money for trust funds and other long-term investing.
My father was the first to go
Deutsche Bank’s asset and wealth management unit was overseen by Michele Faissola, who along with Broeksmit reported directly to CEO Jain. But unlike most bank directors, Broeksmit’s natural curiosity and work ethic didn’t permit him to just turn up for a monthly meeting and cash a paycheck. He began to dig in, looking at the operation.
“[My father] didn’t just want to show up,” said Val Broeksmit.
A month before his death, William Broeksmit wrote — in what his son says shows his anger — to fellow executives asking why he should take the lead on a sticky matter of the upcoming Federal Reserve-mandated stress test for the bank.
He also questioned the “generous” loan-loss numbers being used by the bank, afraid that federal regulators would see the bank was losing more on loans than the books showed. Large losses could lead the feds to slap the bank with restrictions.
“Who is recommending that I do this? I am supposed to be an independent director and this puts me further into a role aligned with management,” he wrote.
Two years ago, the mystery of the banker suicides hit New York City. Calogero “Charles” Gambino, 41, a married father of two kids, was Deutsche’s in-house lawyer for 11 years at the bank’s downtown headquarters. He was working on defending the bank against Libor charges and other regulatory probes.
On Oct. 20, 2014, Gambino’s body was found by his wife Maria hanging from an upstairs balcony of his Brooklyn home, a neatly kept white brick townhouse in Bay Ridge with ornamental stone fretwork at the roof line. The rope was snaked through the bannister and tied off on the knoll post on the first floor.
There was no reported note and his tight-knit family has refused to speak about his death.
I believe he knew too much
The serious-looking, bespectacled banker was a New York success story — a graduate of St. John’s University and St. John’s Law School who spent two years working at the Securities and Exchange Commission as an enforcement lawyer. He then moved to the white-shoe law firm Skadden Arps as an associate for four years before taking the position at Deutsche Bank, where he moved up the ranks to become an associate general counsel and managing director.
In his work as corporate counsel for Deutsche, Gambino had dealings with many of the bank’s European executives — including Michele Faissola and William Broeksmit.
Mostly it was Gambino’s colleague, outside counsel Mark Stein of Simpson Thatcher, who had the direct contact. Stein, who declined to comment, advised Broeksmit and Faissola in 2012 and 2013 on the Libor probes. Deutsche Bank ultimately reached a settlement with the Department of Justice, paying $12 billion in fines, without any admission of liability.
Gambino’s death was ruled a suicide. In his case and in the cases of both Rossi and Broeksmit, probers never looked for, nor discovered, common threads.
But all three men worked for, or did business with, Deutsche Bank. Moreover, it appears that one or more of the scandals that enveloped Deutsche Bank and/or Monte Paschi since the financial crisis had crossed each of their desks.
It remains to be seen if the circumstances leading to Gambino and Broeksmit’s deaths will ever be re-considered. But questions are being asked and answered in Rossi’s case.
Late last year Italian authorities exhumed his body and reopened their investigation. A ruling on whether Rossi killed himself or was murdered is expected later this month.