Ajax CEO suspended two weeks into job for alleged insider trading

Ajax‘s turbulent season took a fresh turn on Tuesday after their chief executive Alex Kroes was suspended by the club for suspected insider dealing just two weeks after taking up the post.

Kroes has been suspended with immediate effect, with Ajax saying they “intend to terminate” his contract.

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The Dutch giants said the decision was made after the club learnt that Kroes bought over 17,000 shares in Ajax just a week before his intended appointment was announced on Aug. 2, 2023. Having sought legal advice, the club said he “likely engaged in insider trading.”

Kroes only took up the role on March 15 having been proposed as the new CEO and chairman of the board in August 2023. His arrival was delayed at Ajax due to a one-year non-competition clause in his contract at AZ Alkmaar, where he was working as director of international football strategy. Kroes was the man chosen to replace Edwin van der Sar who quit as general director and CEO in May 2023.

“We are deeply dismayed that this has occurred at Ajax, as it is highly detrimental to the club and everyone who holds it dear to them,” Ajax chairman of the supervisory board Michael van Praag said in a statement. “Alex Kroes’ actions are not in line with what Ajax stands for. The timing of his share purchase indicates insider trading.

“Such a violation of the law cannot be tolerated by a publicly listed company, especially when it involves the CEO. After careful consideration, the supervisory board has therefore concluded that Alex’s position as a director of Ajax is untenable. I want to emphasise that the technical policy will continue with the individuals in place and on the path Ajax was already on with Alex.”

In a statement published to LinkedIn, Kroes said he will refer this case to the Netherlands’ Authority for Financial Markets (AFM) to “arrive at an independent judgement.” Kroes said he bought shares on July 26, 2023, as a sign of faith in the project at Ajax and before he signed his contract to become their new CEO.

“I have been an Ajax player since I was nine,” Kroes said. “I have always been involved in the club, as a player and as a member. In my heart and later also through these shares. Shares that I bought out of involvement in the club. Out of confidence in the club. Not to make quick money, but as a positive signal to all stakeholders.

“I have always said in recent times that I want all the attention to be on Ajax, not on Alex. But my moral compass says that I cannot simply accept this decision of the Supervisory Board. I will now independently go to the AFM to present my matter in order to arrive at an independent judgment.

“All this causes unrest for Ajax and I sincerely regret that. Hopefully this period will be over soon. From today onwards, with a heavy heart, I will watch from a distance what is happening at Ajax. Ajax must become Ajax again.”

The latest development comes in a difficult season for the Dutch giants whose form plummeted to the extent that they found themselves at the bottom of the Eredivisie in late October 2023. It has been a season of upheaval where their two pre-season appointments of sporting director Sven Mislintat and new manager Maurice Steijn both proved to be short-lived.

Mislintat was dismissed after just 129 days into the job in September 2023 amid an investigation into a potential conflict of interest over one of Ajax’s transfers. Steijn was sacked in October with the club in their worst run of results in 54 years.

Ajax turned to John van ‘t Schip as their interim manager but find themselves in fifth in the Eredivisie and eight points off fourth and European qualification. They are 21 points behind Feyenoord in second and a shot at making the Champions League, while they are 28 points off PSV at the top of the league.

When Kroes took the job, there was optimism his appointment would trigger the start of Ajax’s resurgence. “There are people who claim it will take four or five years for Ajax to become contenders for the title again,” Kroes said soon after taking the job. “My contract is for three years and I want Ajax to be a title contender in that time.”

But instead, Ajax need to completely rethink their plans. The board members will take over Kroes’ duties and responsibilities in the short term with Van Praag as their delegated commissioner. The next step is for the board to call an Extraordinary General Meeting of the Shareholders (EGM) to talk through the intention to dismiss Kroes.