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Last Updated: Monday, 23 June, 2003, 20:07 GMT 21:07 UK
WestLB chief quits over losses
Robin Saunders
Will Robin Saunders buy the unit from WestLB?
The chief executive of state-controlled German bank WestLB, Juergen Sengera, has quit following a probe into lax risk management at its London-based principal finance unit.

Mr Sengera was sharply criticised by German financial regulators, along with two other directors, for his role in a deal between the bank and UK television rental company Boxclever, formerly Radio Rentals.

The Boxclever deal led to the principal finance unit sustaining losses of 354m, pushing Germany's fifth largest bank into a 1.7 billion euros (1.17bn) pre-tax loss.

WestLB has confirmed it is thinking of selling the controversial unit, which employs 20 people, and getting out of the principal finance business.

Decision due

Robin Saunders, the high profile banker who set up it up four years ago and continues to run it, is understood to be lining up a possible buy-out.

The principal finance unit specialises in setting up complex deals in which the bank takes an equity stake in a company and refinances it, backed by its cash flow.

The Odeon cinema chain, the Pubmaster pub group, Mid Kent Water and Whyte & Mackay whiskey maker Kyndal are among the UK companies which WestLB has a stake in.

WestLB is due to make a decision on the principal finance unit's future within the next week, a spokesman told the BBC.

Buccaneering style

Ms Saunders, who is among the richest women in Britain, rose to prominence with her involvement in the financing of the Wembley stadium redevelopment.

She also grabbed headlines with her rescue of Formula One, in a deal that turned that turned its owner Bernie Ecclestone into a billionaire, and an abortive bid for Railtrack.

But the 40-year-old American's buccaneering style has brought her into conflict with WestLB's shareholders in Germany, who were unhappy about the level of risk to which the bank was exposed.

Things came to a head when Ms Saunders' unit sustained big losses on the buyout of Boxclever.

The deal pushed WestLB deeper into the red and forced it to revise upwards its losses for last year to 1.7 billion euros (1.17bn).

Critical report

The shock write-down prompted Germany's financial regulator BaFin to ask auditors Ernst & Young to investigate.

BaFin's report, which is understood to be critical of WestLB's risk assessment and control procedures between its London and Dusseldorf offices, was handed to the bank's board on Friday.

Earlier on Monday, Mr Sengera resigned as chairman of WestLB's managing board, after failing to win the full backing of its shareholders.

WestLB's biggest shareholder, the German state of North-Rhine Westphalia had previously been supportive of Mr Sengera, but some local politicians have been sharply critical Mr Sengera and the British unit.

Bernd Luethke, head of the bank's supervisory board, blamed Mr Sengera's departure on "strategic differences over the bank's future diection".

Board member Johannes Ringel was named interim chairman until a new boss can be found.

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