Former Nebraska Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, on the shortlist for secretary of defense in the second Obama administration, sits on the board of a bank that is under investigation for allegedly violating United States sanctions on Iran.
The revelation could complicate the possible nomination of Hagel, who has come under sharp criticism for what critics describe as his troubling foreign policy views, which include calling for direct unconditional talks with Iran. Hagel reportedly met with President Barack Obama on Dec. 4 to discuss the Secretary of Defense position, according to Bloomberg News, and has passed the White House counsel's vetting process.
Hagel was appointed in 2009 to Deutsche Bank’s Americas Advisory Board. The paid position placed him in close contact with the bank’s senior leadership.
Germany’s Deutsche Bank is reportedly being probed by U.S. authorities for violating a trade embargo on Iran’s oil and energy sector, which is believed to play a key role in Tehran’s nuclear enrichment program.
Deutsche Bank denies these allegations.
Hagel’s opponents tell the Free Beacon that the former Senator has many questions to answer about his ties to Deutsche Bank.
"The key question for the committees during a confirmation process will be what did Mr. Hagel know, when did he know it, and why has he remained affiliated with Deutsche Bank throughout this process?" asked a senior senate aide involved in the potential confirmation process.
"Why has this man not resigned yet from this advisory council?" the source asked.
Senate insiders have told the Free Beacon that Hagel would face staunch opposition if he were to be nominated by the president. He has been criticized by the pro-Israel community for what they claim is his sharp criticism of Israel and for his support for the elimination of America’s nuclear arsenal.
Hagel’s relationship with Deutsche Bank raises troubling questions and could pose a serious conflict of interest, sources said.
"Somebody who willingly stands by as an official of a company helping the Iranian regime acquire nuclear weapons capabilities cannot credibly stand up as the secretary of defense for a country that may need to go to war with Iran," said the senate source.
Attempts to reach Hagel through the Atlantic Council, where he currently serves as chairman, were unsuccessful.
A source close to Deutsche Bank's American division told the Free Beacon that Hagel would not have had knowledge of any possible dealings with Iran and would not have been briefed on the issue.
Deutsche Bank in Germany is reported to be one of four European banks under investigation for doing business with Iran. Deutsche Bank officials deny the allegation.
The bank allegedly admitted in its quarterly earnings report this year that it was being investigated by U.S. authorities for its dealings with Iran, according to the Jerusalem Post.
"The possible violation deals with a financial transaction with the Islamic Republic in U.S. dollars," according to the report. "Deutsche Bank says it will now cooperate with the authorities, though it had previously refused to comment on the allegations."
A source close Deutsche Bank confirmed that there was an inquiry, but maintained that it related to the bank's "historical" dealings with Iran and would have pre-dated Hagel's affiliation with company.
It is believed that Deutsche Bank "funneled billions of dollars through their American branches for Iran, Sudan, and other sanctioned nations, according to law enforcement officials with knowledge of the cases," the New York Times reported earlier this year.
Hagel joined Deutsche Bank’s Americas Advisory Board (AAB) in 2009, soon after leaving the Senate, where he served for 12 years.
"We are extremely proud to add yet another member to the Board with strong business experience and a distinguished record of service to his country," Seth Waugh, Deutsche Bank Americas’ CEO and a member of the Group Executive Committee, said at the time. "The collective knowledge and experience assembled on these boards has been exceptionally beneficial for Deutsche Bank and its clients, and we look forward to Chuck’s participation going forward."
Hagel’s position involves advising and consulting with "Deutsche Bank executives and clients on a wide range of strategic and market issues, including business development and growth as well as economic, industry, political and social trends," according to a statement. "Board members also advise on client initiatives."
Hagel serves on the board in a non-governmental role and has no fiduciary responsibilities related to the bank.
Prosecutors raided Deutsche Bank's headquarters Wednesday in a tax-evasion investigation, according to The New York Times. The bank revealed Thursday that it expects weak earnings.