Citibank ex-staffer sued over data theft

Citibank has sued a former Singapore branch manager, alleging he sent 149 attachments containing confidential information to his personal e-mail address before joining the private banking operations of UBS.

The banker, Jonathan Seah, says the suit is meant to deter others employed by Citibank’s local private banking business from defecting to rivals.

The case is being closely watched, as Singapore has a shortage of experienced private bankers. Urs Brutsch at Clariden, the Swiss bank, said: “Talent is really an issue.”

Citibank is suing Mr Seah and six others who were at its Citigold operation for allegedly disseminating client information and poaching customers and Citibank staff in violation of their contracts when they joined UBS. In a filing last week with the Singapore High Court, Citibank alleged Mr Seah, the most senior former Citibank official involved in the case, transferred sensitive information to his personal email address in May, when he gave notice.

Citibank said the data included details of Citigold's operations such as the performance records and incentive schemes for its relationship managers. Other information allegedly included data on Citigold customers.

Citibank also alleged that Mr Seah persuaded two managers he supervised to join him at UBS in violation of his contract, which prohibited him from recruiting other Citibank employees until at least three months after he left.

“They are trying to punish us for leaving the firm,” Mr Seah told the Financial Times, explaining that Citibank’s local priority banking business was suffering from a high turnover, as competing private banks were offering more generous salaries.

Mr Seah said in affidavit filed at the Singapore High Court that UBS had offered him a 60 per cent salary increase and that it was making similar offers to other Citibank employees.

Mr Seah denied that the data he transferred to his email account was used to benefit UBS. “There is zero proof that we used the data,” he said. He returned the information to Citibank when the bank requested it in July. UBS has put Mr Seah on leave, while the others sued by Citibank are either on leave or have not yet started at UBS.

Mr Seah acknowledged to the FT that he transferred the data as claimed by Citibank but he had used it to work from home and to maintain a personal record of his job performance at Citibank.

Mr Seah believed it was a common practice among Citigold employees to transfer data to personal e-mail accounts so they could work from home.

Citigroup dismissed suggestions that the legal action was meant to send a message to employees considering moving to rival banks. “The privacy of our customer, proprietary or confidential information is one of our highest priorities. We will always act to protect the privacy of such information,” it said.

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