Poland: Removal of stock exchange CEO shocks Warsaw

By:
Elliot Wilson
Published on:

Allegations linked to film star girlfriend; CEO had overseen IPO boom

"The only thing that matters is transparency – following the rules. [...] The reality is that [you have to] follow the rules, and if you don’t, you immediately get stigmatized."

Pertinent words indeed, uttered by Ludwik Sobolewski, now former president of the management board of the Warsaw Stock Exchange, in an interview with Euromoney in the Polish capital in late November. Sobolewski then appeared confident about his position at the helm of central and eastern Europe’s most successful and dynamic bourse.

Less than four weeks after the interview, on December 21, Sobolewski was suspended from his post. An extraordinary general meeting was then convened on January 17, where he was stripped of his title at a company he had headed with aplomb for the previous six years.

The story appears to stem from when the 47-year-old career bureaucrat met Anna Szarek, a woman 20 years younger than him. At the time, Szarek was a junior staffer at the stock exchange and a budding actress.

Fast forward to December 2012, and the securities chief and one of his subordinates are accused of having sought to persuade listed companies into financing ‘The curse of the Pharaoh’, a slapstick comedy film about a calamity-filled Egyptian package holiday – starring Szarek.

Sobolewski, who was not available for comment, has publicly denied the allegations, insisting that he did not "encourage, pressure or entice" listed firms to invest in the movie.

But his dismissal was inevitable once treasury minister Mikolaj Budzanowski, who retains a majority of voting rights in the WSE, decided to pursue the matter. In a radio interview Budzanowski described Sobolewski’s actions as "shameful" and "unethical", saying the former WSE president was "responsible for the functioning of the exchange, not for the production of films".

At the January 17 EGM, the unveiling of his successor swiftly followed Sobolewski’s removal; Adam Maciejewski, a respected corporate director and member of the WSE management board since 2006, becomes the new CEO.

Sobolewski’s tenure at the exchange was marked by the launch of specialist indices for commodities and municipal bonds. Under him, the WSE dragged in IPOs from across the region. More IPOs were completed in 2012 in Warsaw than on any other European bourse, including London and Frankfurt.

Yet Sobolewski was regularly criticized for chasing new listings at the expense of liquidity: too many Warsaw-listed stocks are thinly traded. There are also concerns about the quality of many recent listings on New Connect, an exchange for small and medium-sized enterprises that Sobolewski helped set up.