Last updated: January 17, 2013 7:43 pm

‘Pharaoh’s curse’ costs WSE chief his job

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Ludwik Sobolewski, chief executive officer of the Warsaw Stock Exchange,©Bloomberg

Ludwik Sobolewski insists he did not 'encourage, pressure or entice' the heads of WSE-listed companies to invest in the film

A film called The Curse of the Pharaoh has cost one of Poland’s most successful chief executives his job.

Ludwik Sobolewski, the president and chief executive of the Warsaw Stock Exchange, was fired on Thursday over allegations that he had approached companies listed on the bourse to finance the film, which will star his girlfriend.

Mr Sobolewski denied doing anything improper but the state treasury was insistent. He was suspended in December after refusing an offer to resign quietly and was formally removed at an extraordinary meeting of the exchange’s shareholders.

Mr Sobolewski’s dismissal marks a dramatic fall from grace for a man who helped turn the WSE into the largest bourse in the region, eclipsing its longtime rival in Vienna and aiming to overtake larger stock exchanges in Istanbul and Scandinavia.

Those ambitions, however, will not be realised after his ties to Anna Szarek, an actress and former staffer in the WSE’s public relations department, brought him down.

Mr Sobolewski and one of his subordinates were accused of soliciting listed companies to invest in The Curse of the Pharaoh, a film about an Egyptian package holiday gone wrong, starring Ms Szarek.

Mikolaj Budzanowski, the treasury minister, called Mr Sobolewski’s behaviour “unethical” and “shameful”. In a radio interview, the minister said: “The president who is responsible for the functioning of the exchange, and not for the production of films, is using the authority of the exchange when he uses his position to interest companies linked with the exchange to co-finance something.”

Mr Sobolewski insisted that he did not “encourage, pressure or entice” the heads of WSE-listed companies to invest in the film.

An austere workaholic who had an enormous fish-tank stocked with piranhas outside his office, Mr Sobolewski opened the WSE’s New Connect small companies market, as well as adding energy and bond trading to the exchange’s activities. He also helped push through the privatisation of the WSE in 2010, which saw the treasury’s stake in the bourse drop to 35 per cent, although it kept a voting majority.

He spent much of his time travelling across the region trying to entice Ukrainian, Czech, Latvian and even Israeli companies to list in Warsaw, with some success. The exchange was also a crucial source of funds for the government, which sold shares in many large state-controlled companies through the bourse.

He is being replaced by Adam Maciejewski, who becomes the WSE’s third head since its founding in 1991.

The WSE was founded in 1991 as one of the first free capital markets in the region. It started with only five listed companies and a turnover of $2,000 on a trading floor located in the former Communist Party Central Committee headquarters. There are now 439 companies listed on the main market, with an average daily trading volume of $275m.

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