Failed deals threaten glittering career of City's top woman

The fate of Robin Saunders, one of the City's most high-profile financiers, was hanging in the balance last night after her boss at the German bank WestLB quit.

As chief executive, Jürgen Sengera was one of Ms Saunders' strongest advocates, enabling her to build a formidable reputation as much for her glamorous lifestyle as for her lucrative deal-making.

But Mr Sengera has now, in part, become a victim of her falling star. It emerged last month that Germany's powerful banking regulator had opened an investigation into her department, which specialises in complex financing deals. The inquiry was prompted by concerns that at least one deal approved by Ms Saunders' department ­ an £850m loan to the television rentals business BoxClever ­ had turned very sour. As a result WestLB will probably have to write off £300m from its own coffers.

Yesterday Mr Sengera took responsibility for failings identified by the regulator, BaFin, and stood down. Another senior board member, Andreas Seibert, also left the bank, after it received findings which are believed to have been far more damning than had initially been expected by WestLB's senior echelons.

The contents have not been made public, but the obvious question being asked by many in the City was whether the London-based Ms Saunders would be the third head to roll.

BaFin is thought to have said that WestLB's risk controls were lax and senior figures in the chain of command did not have a proper idea about the risks WestLB was taking on to its own balance sheet. The findings were enough to prompt shareholders to withdraw their backing from Mr Sengera at a meeting in Dusseldorf, where WestLB has its headquarters.

Ms Saunders' friends were quick to deny reports that Johannes Ringel, the director who has stepped in to run WestLB until a permanent replacement is found, was planning to make her sacking his first duty. "She is still an employee of the bank and she is getting on with her duties," one source said.

However, others close to the bank said Ms Saunders' name appears a number of times in BaFin's report. They added that while she may not be made an official victim of the bloodletting, her face will no longer fit following the backlash against Mr Sengera and his allies.

That situation is very far from the charmed existence Ms Saunders has become used to since joining WestLB in 1998. As the executive heading WestLB's principal finance business, she pulled off a string of multimillion-pound deals, including the financing of Formula One and an agreement to facilitate the rebuilding of Wembley Stadium.

The deals with household names and the fact that the Florida-born Ms Saunders is one of the very few women working at such a senior level in the City, with a remuneration package to match, soon meant she had one of the highest profiles in the Square Mile.

Her private life seemed just as high octane. As well as the Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone, she also counts among her friends Philip Green, the retailing billionaire who owns Bhs. Earlier this year she hosted a three-day party in Tuscany to celebrate her 40th birthday, her 10th wedding anniversary and the christening of her twins.

Ironically, Ms Saunders is understood to have a better working relationship with Mr Ringel, whom she has had to report to since the start of the year, than some of her German colleagues, who have been suspicious about the merits of her business from its outset.

But those close to her say her ideal outcome of the turmoil of the past few weeks would be to part company with her German bosses by simply buying her business from them.

That may well be the desired outcome of WestLB itself. It is due to receive a valuation on the division as early as today from the investment banks Citigroup and Goldman Sachs. After that it might be as simple as agreeing a price with Ms Saunders.

She has been busy in the past two weeks lining up a number of City institutions, as well as some of her friends, to finance a buyout, which could be valued at as much as £3bn.

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