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Monday, January 5, 2009

Suicide banker found hanged in five-star hotel had blown a fortune on women and drugs

By James Millbank

A senior HSBC banker found hanged in a five-star London hotel is believed to have spent tens of thousands of pounds on cocaine and women in the months leading up to his death.

Christen Schnor, who was independently wealthy, had regularly gone missing from his six-figure post as he embarked on a personal journey of destruction.

Sources say Mr Schnor, who was a close friend of the Danish royal family, had been squandering large chunks of his family’s fortune.

High-flying career: Smiling HSBC executive Christen Schnor and a friend in a picture posed on Facebook

High-flying career: Smiling HSBC executive Christen Schnor and a friend in a picture posed on Facebook

A hotel worker found Danish-born Mr Schnor, 49, in his £500-a-night suite at the Jumeriah Carlton Tower Hotel in Knightsbridge a fortnight ago. A suicide note written in Danish was by his side.

The millionaire father of four, who drove an Aston Martin to work, is said to have started using expensive prostitutes and cocaine after moving to London in June 2007 to take up his post.

His wife Marianne allegedly discovered that he had been siphoning their bank accounts and repeatedly tried to track down Mr Schnor at his office in Canary Wharf, but he was rarely there.

Sources say the bank thought he was off with Legionnaire’s Disease. Mr Schnor was HSBC’s head of insurance for the UK, Turkey, the Middle East and Malta – an arm of the business worth an estimated £750million in profit.

He sat on the executive committee of HSBC Bank plc, which runs the UK and European side of the global bank.

A source at HSBC said: ‘Christen was a big player at the bank. He was one of the most senior executives in Europe for HSBC and it was quite a coup to have brought him over from the Winterthur Group, where he had been an executive board member.

‘Senior management became concerned by his erratic behaviour and appearance but he claimed he was ill with Legionnaire’s Disease. This now seems doubtful. Instead, he appears to have been spending a small fortune booking prostitutes through an
escort agency and buying drugs.'

The source added: ‘He had lost almost two stone in weight and when he did turn up at work he looked a shell of the man who had first arrived at the bank. His poor wife Marianne made many attempts to find him.

‘She had discovered he had been draining their bank account and spending the money on Russian prostitutes and cocaine. The amount of money he had withdrawn had even made it difficult for her to pay the bills by the end.’

Mr Schnor’s wife and children were believed to be back home in Copenhagen at the time of his death on December 17 last year.

Marianne had spent time living with her husband and two of their children at a £390-a-day rented four-bedroom flat in Wellesley House, Lower Sloane Street, Chelsea.

But Mr Schnor told bank bosses that he had to move out of his flat due to ‘refurbishment’ work. HSBC helped relocate him to the Jumeriah Carlton Hotel, which he paid for himself. It now appears there was no work being carried out on his flat and he had just left of his own accord.

Luxury lifestyle: The Schnors owned this villa in France and were friends of Danish royalty

Luxury lifestyle: The Schnors owned this villa in France and were friends of Danish royalty

The bank source said: ‘What happened came as a complete shock to management. Some were aware that he was undergoing personal problems but nothing like what was happening in reality.

‘They had tried to support him as much as they could, with the bank later helping to book him the hotel where he was staying but which he paid for himself, and put his absence at work down to him meeting business contacts as he built up their insurance arm.’

Mr Schnor also told bank bosses he had been burgled just weeks before he died. But he was unable to detail what was taken and the Metropolitan Police have no record of any break-in. They are not treating his death as suspicious.

An inquest is due to take place into his apparent suicide and his funeral is expected to be held this week.

The Schnors, who also owned a seven-bedroom villa in Cannes, France, which they let for up to £10,000 a week, were close friends of the Danish royal family, especially Crown Prince Frederik, who is heir to the Danish throne.

The banker had also been one of the elite who dined with Denmark’s Queen Margrethe, 68.

Mr Schnor spent five years in the Danish army after graduating and belonged to the country’s military reserve, recently attaining the highest position of Lieutenant Colonel.

A spokesman for HSBC refused to comment about Mr Schnor’s activities, but said: ‘The bank’s thoughts are with Christen’s friends and family following their tragic loss.’