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Stefan Siebert, former boss of the “Effenberg Bank”


ari / IMAGO

The chaos at the so-called Effenberg Bank is getting bigger and bigger. Most recently, it was primarily about an extraordinary general meeting at the end of March in Erfurt, at which the owners want to appoint a new supervisory board in order to get rid of the special representative of the financial regulator Bafin. Now the annual reports from the past few years are coming into focus. Volksbank Bad Salzungen Schmalkaden itself confirms corresponding SPIEGEL information that the annual financial statements for 2020 and 2021 “need correction”; The auditor firm Baker Tilly, which is supposed to attest the balance sheet for 2022, conveyed this to her.

The “Effenberg Bank” – so called because it once employed ex-national player Stefan Effenberg to enter the lending business with football clubs – cannot say which issues need to be corrected. “The final way in which we will deal with these issues is under review,” is all that is said upon request. According to SPIEGEL information, it involves, among other things, dubious real estate transactions and the fact that the bank paid six-figure legal costs for its former CEO Stefan Siebert in 2021.

At that time, the Mühlhausen public prosecutor's office had stopped investigations against Siebert on suspicion of infidelity in exchange for payment of a fine. Siebert, who denies the allegations, has now left the bank, primarily under pressure from the financial regulator Bafin and the Volksbankenverband BVR, who accuse him of, among other things, risky lending transactions and deficiencies in money laundering prevention.

It is unclear whether the 2020 and 2021 balance sheets certified by the PDG Cooperative Auditing Association need to be overhauled or even prepared again. It is also unclear what will happen to the balance sheet in 2022. There is a significant need for write-downs for the financial year alone, as the bank admits, insiders speak of more than 70 million euros - for a bank that, according to the 2021 disclosure report, had core capital of 155 million euros.

According to SPIEGEL information, Baker Tilly is currently rejecting an audit for 2022 with reference to the incorrect previous balance sheets, which the bank cannot confirm and Baker Tilly cannot comment on.

But the fact is: In February 2024 there will be no balance sheet for the 2022 financial year (it would still be too early for the 2023 balance sheet), and there are considerable doubts about the financial statements in the two previous years. All of this fuels doubts as to whether the previous management around Siebert was serious enough to run a bank.

Bafin and BVR triggered these doubts with two long letters to the bank in autumn 2023. They are riddled with serious allegations. Bafin and BVR attest that the institution has a “poor risk culture” and “questionable information and statements” provided to the supervisory authority, and they express “significant… concerns about the reliability of the money laundering prevention function and the bank's customer structure.” It's about loans to dubious companies, suspiciously expensive real estate purchases, self-dealing with a subsidiary, probably to improve the bank's balance sheet. Siebert has always categorically rejected these allegations.

As a result, the Bafin did not stop at verbal attacks. It requires the bank to increase the equity ratio from eight to 14 percent in order to protect itself against losses. In addition, she declared a de facto ban on loans, ordered the reversal of certain real estate deals, demanded daily liquidity reports, froze the shares of the bank's peers, i.e. the owners of the institute, and urged the 16-member supervisory board, including Thuringia's former Prime Minister Dieter Althaus (CDU) , as well as Siebert and his board colleague Jan Wettstein from the bank and ultimately appointed two special representatives who have been running the bank on an interim basis ever since.

These special representatives are a thorn in the side of many owners of cooperative shares in the bank, i.e. the owners of the financial institution, which is why the extraordinary general meeting at the end of March in Erfurt should be exciting. By then it could also be clear what implications the balance sheet confusion of 2020, 2021 and 2022 has. For example, if further transactions have to be reversed or real estate sales have to be revalued, the bank is threatened with additional write-offs and thus losses that eat up its equity capital.