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EU looks into appointment of ex-regulator as new head of bank lobby group AFME

The European Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly has launched an investigation into the appointment of Adam Farkas, former executive director of the European Banking Authority, as the new CEO of the Association for Financial Markets in Europe., Handelsblatt reported Jan. 20.

Upon its announcement in September 2019, the move triggered a backlash from European Parliament members who were concerned about a conflict of interest. Subsequently, the non-governmental organization Change Finance lodged a complaint with the EU Ombudsman, according to the report.

The AFME represents large banking groups and investment firms such as Blackrock, Deutsche Bank and others. The group often debates banking and financial regulation with the EBA.

The authority has applied conditions on Farkas' departure to ensure EU employment rules are upheld after he joins the AFME. Farkas has been barred from lobbying or advocacy of the EBA and contacting any EBA staff for 24 months after leaving the authority. He has also been prohibited from advising AFME members or sharing details of his work during his last three years at the EBA with the AFME or its members for 18 months after leaving the EBA.

Nevertheless, O'Reilly will now look into those conditions to see whether they have not been too lenient, Handelsblatt reported. The Ombudsman has sent 12 questions to EBA Chair Jose Manuel Campa regarding Farkas' move. Among other queries, O'Reilly wants to know whether the EBA leadership had considered prohibiting Farkas from joining the AFME and how his appointment at the organization fits in with the EBA internal staff rules which call for high-ranking EU employees to wait at least a year before joining a lobby group, the paper reported.

O'Reilly will also look into Farkas' involvement with the European Securities and Markets Authority. While he was excluded from any regulatory decisions at the EBA already in August 2019, he was still participating in political discussions at the ESMA at the time. The organizations that lodged the complaint with the ombudsman's office were not aware of that fact, according to Handelsblatt.

Shonan Kothari, a member of Finance Watch, another organization that took part in the complaint, welcomed O'Reilly's effort to research the matter further and look into the link to ESMA.

Campa told Handelsblatt in an interview in November 2019 that there is potential to further improve the conditions imposed on Farkas at his new place of employment.