At the offices of Hamburger Sparkasse AG (Haspa), they were known as Alte & Doofe -- A & D for short -- which translates as old and stupid. The reference was to some of the 3,700 clients who were sold Lehman-backed derivatives, known as certificates in Germany, by Haspa, Germanys largest sparkasse savings bank.
When Lehman went bankrupt three years ago, instead of compensating all those who sustained losses Haspa partially compensated some 1,000 investors while most received what the bank called a small gesture to make up for losses sustained. Token gestures recommended in internal memos, of which Süddeutsche Zeitung and NDR radio have obtained copies, included a bouquet of flowers or an invitation to dinner. The memos also include advice for dealing with furious clients.
Two such clients, who received neither money nor flowers, were Bernd and Brigitte Krupsky from Hamburg. They lost their 10,000-euro investment and filed a suit against Haspa. The case is now before the German Federal Court, which will make a decision on Sept. 27. This is the first time that the countrys top court will rule on a suit brought by a Lehman victim -- and lay down to what extent the bank should have informed their clients about risks.
A German consumer protection group is hoping the federal court decision will establish a legal principle. All told, there are an estimated 40,000 to 50,000 Lehman victims in Germany, who lost a total of some 750 million euros in the banks collapse.
Haspa refutes claims that it should have better informed clients about what they were getting into, or that many retirees were unaware of what they were actually buying. They were all experienced investors, says board member and deputy spokesperson Reinhard Klein. They would have known that their investment was only covered if the backer was a German institution. Just the name Lehman Brothers should have been enough to indicate that it was a foreign bank, he said.
Haspa internal memos, however, contradict this. According to the documents, many Haspa employees didnt know what they were selling. Shortly after the Lehman bankruptcy, the banks management sent an e-mail to staffers containing stock answers for clients along with explanations about the risks of certificates the sort of facts that, according to Klein, all of them knew. Worse, the e-mail reads: "Total loss can happen, but at this time we view it as improbable." The e-mail was sent three days after the Lehman collapse, when the investors money was already long gone.
Read the full story in German by Kristina Läsker
Photo - Tom T