Deutsche Bank co-CEO, ex-officials cleared in Munich fraud case

Deutsche Bank co-CEO Juergen Fitschen (L) leaves the court room at a courthouse in Munich, southern Germany, on April 25, 2016 after the trial on allegations he gave misleading testimony in 2002.  Fitschen is one of five defendants accused of giving false testimony in a long-running legal battle with the defunct Kirch media group. The defendants were acquitted. / AFP PHOTO / CHRISTOF STACHE



Deutsche Bank AG co-Chief Executive Officer Juergen Fitschen and four former bank officials were acquitted of charges that they lied to judges during a more than 14-year-old dispute with a German media mogul.
The men were cleared after almost one year of trial at a Munich court Monday. The charges against defendants including former CEOs Josef Ackermann and Rolf Breuer had been questioned by Presiding Judge Peter Noll for weeks.
The verdict is another setback for German prosecutors in a high-profile white-collar criminal trial. Last month, former Porsche Chief Executive Officer Wendelin Wiedeking and ex-Chief Financial Officer Holger Haerter were cleared by a Stuttgart court of charges they manipulated Volkswagen AG shares during a failed 2008 takeover.
“At the beginning there were certainly clear suspicions of wrongdoing, so it was legitimate to bring the charges and hold the trial according to the rule of law,” Noll said. “No one needs be ashamed about that. But after one year of trial they couldn’t be confirmed.”
The Deutsche Bank executives were accused of deceiving judges in a civil lawsuit filed by Leo Kirch seeking 2 billion euros ($2.25 billion). Kirch claimed that Breuer caused his media company’s demise when questioning its creditworthiness in a Bloomberg Television interview that aired Feb. 4, 2002.
While the civil suit was eventually rejected, judges said that Breuer, then-CEO Ackermann and two other managers lied to them. That comment prompted Munich prosecutors to open a probe in 2011 that led to several raids at the bank’s Frankfurt headquarters. Fitschen was added as a suspect in 2013.
The pressure from the criminal probes prompted Deutsche Bank to eventually settle with Kirch’s heirs in 2014 after more than a decade of civil litigation. Deutsche Bank agreed to pay them 927.9 million euros. The matter has cost the bank a total of 1 billion euros, including 43 million euros of fees paid to lawyers and other advisers, according to the invitation to the company’s annual shareholder meeting in May.
Deutsche Bank’s legal disputes and fines for past misconduct have sapped its reserves as regulators ratchet up capital requirements as a response to the financial crisis of 2008. The Kirch dispute also diverted the attention of the company’s senior management at a time when banks are trying to renew their business models to cope with record low interest rates and disruption brought by digital technology.

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