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Review of Zurich finance chief's suicide clears Ackermann

Former Deutsche Bank Chief Executive Josef Ackermann attends the presentation of his biography written by Stefan Baron, in Berlin, September
Former Deutsche Bank Chief Executive Josef Ackermann attends the presentation of his biography written by Stefan Baron, in Berlin, September

By Alice Baghdjian and Paul Arnold

ZURICH (Reuters) - Zurich Insurance finance chief Pierre Wauthier did not come under "undue pressure" before his suicide, the firm said on Monday, citing results of an investigation into his death that it hopes will wrap up the scandal before earnings next week.

The findings of the investigation, initiated and overseen by Switzerland's financial market watchdog, appear to lift any blame from Zurich's high-profile former chairman Josef Ackermann, a previous boss of Deutsche Bank .

Zurich, which has championed a "boring" image in recent years, was shaken by the death of 53-year-old chief financial officer (CFO) Wauthier in August and the subsequent resignation of Ackermann. Wauthier blamed Ackermann in a suicide note for putting him under pressure, a source said.

Switzerland's FINMA watchdog found "no indication that the CFO was subjected to any undue or inappropriate pressure" by the chairman or any other decision maker, Zurich said on Monday.

The results confirm a report by Reuters on Friday.

A separate review into the presentation of Zurich's financial figures, begun by the Swiss regulator and conducted by auditing firm PricewaterhouseCoopers - Zurich's regular auditor - found their presentation to be "appropriate", the firm added.

"We are still deeply saddened by the loss of Pierre Wauthier and we are unable to explain the motivation behind his tragic decision," Zurich's chairman Tom de Swaan said in a statement.

The Swiss insurer has been keen to put an end to speculation about the suicide and the presentation of financial figures before its third-quarter results on November 14 and an update for investors on December 5 on targets the firm will likely miss, though analysts said the findings of the reports were largely expected.

"Investors will be looking for a set of clean figures in the third quarter after a number of quarterly disappointments of one-off negative items, and that's what is needed to regain confidence," said Daniel Bischof, an analyst at Helvea.

Zurich's shares fell 9 percent in the two weeks following its second-quarter earnings, but have since recovered. They were little changed by Monday's announcement, trading at 251.3 Swiss francs by 1250 GMT.

TARGETS

Conducted by securities law firm Homburger, the review into Wauthier's death involved evaluating documents and correspondence, as well as interviewing colleagues, Zurich said.

Wauthier's widow said she was not aware of the report's findings when contacted by Reuters on Monday.

Zurich declined to comment on whether the Wauthier family had been informed of the findings or had received a copy of the report, saying it was a confidential matter.

At the time of his resignation, Ackermann denied putting pressure on Wauthier, but said later it would not have been possible to carry out his duties as chairman with the "required resolve".

A source familiar with the situation told Reuters on Monday the full reports would not be made public.

Sources have told Reuters that Ackermann clashed with Wauthier in the run-up to second-quarter earnings, when the company said meeting three-year targets for its general insurance and U.S. business Farmers, which include goals for profitability and costs, would be "challenging".

In a meeting in mid-August, a day before the release of those results, Ackermann insisted that Wauthier make changes to the result presentation, leading Zurich to signal a lack of progress on business targets.

(Additional reporting by Silke Koltrowitz; Editing by Louise Heavens and Mark Potter)

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