The Munich Regional Court ended the criminal trial today after lawyers for both sides told the judges they had reached a deal. The presiding judge in the case, Anton Winkler, called for a settlement last week.
“We were permanently rotating between ‘maybe he did know more’ and a potential acquittal, so it’s reasonable to end the case now,” Winkler said when announcing the ruling. “Even if we would have found guilt in this case, it would have been at the very lowest level required for a conviction.”
Kirch, who died in July, was once one of Germany’s biggest media tycoons and pursued civil lawsuits against Breuer, 74, and Deutsche Bank seeking at least 3.3 billion euros. The lawsuits, which continue after his death, claim Kirch’s company failed after Breuer questioned its creditworthiness in a 2002 Bloomberg TV interview.
The Kirch litigation has spawned a separate criminal probe this year by Munich prosecutors over testimony Breuer gave in February in another Kirch case. Current Deutsche Bank CEO Josef Ackermann, chairman Clemens Boersig and former board member Tessen von Heydebreck are also under investigation. Deutsche Bank has denied wrongdoing by any of its executives.
Today’s criminal trial centered on a 2003 appeals court hearing in one of the Kirch suits where Breuer said his TV- interview comments were based on public information, not bank data. Breuer said he “had never seen the Kirch credit file” at the bank, nor correspondence with German financial regulators concerning Kirch, according to the indictment.
Prosecutors charged Breuer with attempted fraud, claiming he lied to avoid a conviction and that his initials are on a copy of a September 2001 letter from the regulator asking about risks related to the bank’s dealings with Kirch. They also cited a supervisory board briefing as evidence Breuer knew details of loans to Kirch Media.
The former executive didn’t admit any liability under the settlement, which ends one of the numerous cases the Kirch litigation prompted. Prosecutor Christiane Serini said the trial developed in a way that made predicting the outcome difficult, prompting her office to agree to settle. Breuer’s attorney, who had sought an acquittal, said the agreement spares his client the burden of additional months of trial. Breuer himself declined to comment.
The state of Bavaria will receive 250,000 euros of Breuer’s payment. Another 100,000 euros will go to various charities.
Had the trial continued and led to a conviction, Serini said Breuer would probably only have had to pay a fine because the probe was pending for years and because of the time since the alleged misconduct. Also, either side could have appealed the verdict which may have prolonged the case further, she said.
Before the trial was opened, Breuer refused to settle the case by accepting a suspended one-year prison term and a fine proposed by prosecutors, two people familiar with the issue who declined to be identified said in May. That proposal would have led to a formal conviction whereas today’s settlement doesn’t.
Testimony by Deutsche Bank Chief Risk Officer Hugo Banziger, the lender’s former Chief Counsel Hans-Dirk Krekeler and other managers in the trial didn’t back the allegations against Breuer. Judge Winkler told the parties last week that, in light of the evidence taken so far, the sides should settle.
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