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Deutsche Bank top holder takes chairman search into own hand

[FRANKFURT] Deutsche Bank AG's top shareholders in Qatar are taking the unusual step of directly approaching candidates to gauge their interest in replacing chairman Paul Achleitner as investor patience runs out after a prolonged stock slump.

Some representatives of the Qatari royal family have held talks with an international recruiting firm as they review potential executives, according to people familiar with the matter. They're debating whether to try and force Mr Achleitner to leave before his term expires in 2022, the people said, asking not to be identified disclosing private discussions.

The Qatari efforts underscore the frustration of key Deutsche Bank backers after the shares lost about 70 per cent of their value during Achleitner's time as chairman. The Austrian received his lowest backing yet at this year's shareholder meeting after a tumultuous period that saw the stock fall to a new record low and the appointment of the fourth CEO under his watch. The Qataris' stake gives them an outsized voice in choosing the next chairman.

Two Qatari entities -- Paramount Services Holdings and Supreme Universal Holdings -- each own a stake of just over 3 per cent in Deutsche Bank. It's not clear if they're acting in concert on the push or if the search is driven just by one of them.

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Former Qatar Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabor Al Thani, an influential politician and businessman, controls Paramount. In 2015, he transferred about half his shareholding to Supreme Universal Holdings, controlled by former emir Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani.

A representative for Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim couldn't be reached. The Qatari government communications office didn't provide comment on behalf of the royal court. Deutsche Bank declined to comment.

The Qatari search appears to be running parallel to efforts at Deutsche Bank to find a successor to Mr Achleitner who -- as head of the nomination committee -- is in charge of the process. He recently started looking for potential candidates but is planning to serve out his full term ending in 2022, people familiar with the matter said last month.

Mr Achleitner became Deutsche Bank chairman in 2012, after serving as Germany head for Goldman Sachs and chief financial officer at German insurance company Allianz. Two years later, the Qatari investors took a stake in Deutsche Bank as part of a capital increase.

In 2016, when pressure on Mr Achleitner was already building, Mr Al Thani came out in support of the chairman in an unusual public statement. The investment vehicles of the royal family also backed a capital raising by the bank the following year.

But relations since appear to have soured, with Qatar opposing merger talks between Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank AG this year that Mr Achleitner had encouraged, people familiar with the matter have said. After the talks broke down, CEO Christian Sewing is now making the most sweeping cutbacks yet to Deutsche Bank's investment banking division, a business the chairman had defended for a long time.

Mr Sewing kicked off Deutsche Bank's biggest overhaul in recent memory earlier this year after attempts by his predecessors failed to restore sufficient growth and profitability. The bank has yet to convince investors that it can meet goals for raising revenue in businesses it wants to keep, while exiting stock trading and firing staff across the firm. The lender is planning to cut about 18,000 jobs.

The investment bank division -- formerly known as CIB -- has long been Deutsche Bank's biggest source of trouble as revenue plunged by almost a third between 2015 and last year. Mr Sewing split up the unit in the revamp, turning the part that provides cash management and trade finance to companies into a standalone business now known as Corporate Bank, while placing equities trading and some other parts into a wind-down unit.

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