Banker Who Says He Saw Intern’s Suicide Wins Fight With EIB

The European Investment Bank lost its fight with a former manager it accused of lying about witnessing a 2013 suicide at the bank’s Luxembourg premises.

The ex-employee, who’d initially been paid about 136,500 euros ($167,000) in compensation for the trauma, was cleared of any wrongdoing by a Luxembourg criminal court on Thursday.

The decision puts a stop to an investigation for fraud started by the EIB against Paul Van Houtte in 2016, three years after Ofelia Beke, an intern in her 20s, fell to her death 40 meters from a bridge high up in one of the building’s cavernous atriums.

While the bank initially paid out the compensation to Van Houtte, it subsequently concluded he’d lied and wasn’t actually there that night. The EIB passed on the evidence it collected to the Luxembourg Public Prosecutor, who decided to open a criminal probe.

Van Houtte told the court during a four-day hearing in January how he was sitting on a sofa in a communal area on Nov. 13, 2013, when he heard a loud thump. He turned and saw a young woman lying face down on the concrete. Minutes later, she was dead. His lawyers said he only found out the full details of the complaint against him in 2019.

“I am relieved that the judge found the bank’s claims to be unfounded,” Van Houtte said after the ruling. “It confirms that I acted in good faith. It’s hard to believe that such a prominent EU institution pushed matters so far and refused all along to disclose all the evidence it had.”

The EIB said it wouldn’t comment on a criminal judgment, adding that “the institution played its part as expected from a good corporate citizen throughout the proceedings.”

“We will assess whether anything else is required from us and on the basis of the analysis of the judgment, the bank will take any appropriate measures,” the bank said in response to a request for comment.

More than 10 witnesses, including security guards, former colleagues and doctors, were called to testify in court.

“These proceedings are not about the internal management or his psychological wellbeing,” Marianne Bresart, a lawyer representing the EIB, told the court during one of the few interventions by the bank as a civil party to the case. “The only thing that matters is whether he says the truth,” she said.

“Did he commit fraud,” she asked, or “did he help Ofelia Beke and was he really present during her last breath?”

Van Houtte has been signed off work ever since the 2013 events, suffering from what five doctors diagnosed as post-traumatic stress disorder. In 2015, he was placed on permanent invalidity leave.

Lawyers for Van Houtte argued an internal audit commissioned by the bank after the 2013 tragedy was key in establishing the truth. The EIB handed the court a heavily redacted version of that report, saying a full version wasn’t possible, partly to protect the confidentiality of people interviewed in it.

A copy of the written decision, laying out the judges’ reasonings, will be made available at a later stage.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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