Nov. 24 (Bloomberg) -- Rolf Breuer, Deutsche Bank AG’s former chief executive officer, appeared in court today to defend charges he lied in trial testimony, allegations similar to those leveled against his successor.
Breuer’s criminal trial began 10 days after the bank said current CEO Josef Ackermann is under investigation over testimony he gave earlier this year in a lawsuit brought by Leo Kirch. The charges against Breuer relate to a 2003 appearance in another Kirch suit.
The start of the trial was delayed when the defense asked to have presiding judge Anton Winkler removed for bias. The motion was dismissed and the trial opened more than six hours late. Prosecutor Christiane Serini, who also works on the Ackermann probe, read the indictment.
With Breuer’s trial opening in the shadow of the Ackermann probe, it will be more difficult for Deutsche Bank to defend its public image and may also hamper Breuer’s defense, said Frank Saliger, a criminal law professor at Bucerius Law School in Hamburg.
“From a legal perspective, Breuer’s trial and the Ackermann probe are two different matters which need to be, and should be, handled strictly separately,” Saliger said. “But as a matter of fact, of course, all persons involved take notice of what happens. It’s difficult for an investigator to escape the feeling that one case is somehow backed by the fact that more similar probes evolved out of the same overall issue.”
Kirch’s allegations are baseless, said Christian Streckert, a spokesman for the Frankfurt-based lender. Ackermann’s lawyer Eberhard Kempf didn’t reply to e-mails seeking comment.
“We are seeking an acquittal,” Breuer’s attorney Sven Thomas told reporters after the hearing.“And we will get it.”
Kirch, who died in July, was once one of Germany’s biggest media tycoons and pursued civil lawsuits against Breuer and Deutsche Bank seeking at least 3.3 billion euros ($4.4 billion). The lawsuits, which are continuing after Kirch’s death, claim his company failed after Breuer questioned its creditworthiness in a 2002 Bloomberg TV interview.
It’s the second time a defense motion delayed the opening of Breuer’s trial. In August, it was postponed when Breuer’s lawyers sought additional time to review the panel of judges in the case.
Access to Files
Thomas argued judge Winkler is biased because he twice gave Kirch’s lawyers access to case files in recent months. The court disregarded a protest letter Thomas sent after the first incident, the attorney said. And the second time access to the files was given after Kirch’s death, without the judge asking whom the lawyer is now representing, said Thomas.
The court didn’t disclose its reasons for rejecting the bid. While defense motions to remove judges for bias are common in the German criminal trials, their success rate is low.
After the indictment was read, the defense filed another motion, arguing the bench should be composed of three professional judges, instead of just two, because the case is complex. The court didn’t say when it will issue a ruling on that motion.
The Breuer case centers on a 2003 appeals court hearing in Munich where he said his TV comments were based on what was publicly known at the time, not internal bank information. 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.
Among the witnesses scheduled to testify in the case is Deutsche Bank Chief Risk Officer Hugo Banziger, who was questioned by prosecutors before the court allowed the charges to go to trial. Banziger is scheduled to take the stand on Dec. 12. Members of the lender’s legal department have also been called by the court to testify on Dec. 7, though today’s second defense motion could still affect the timing.
Prosecutors claimed Breuer’s initials are on a copy of the regulator’s September 2001 letter, asking Deutsche Bank about its risks in light of Kirch’s financial problems, indicating he saw the document. They also cite an internal bank briefing about Kirch’s situation that Breuer attended.
Breuer earlier refused to settle the case by accepting a suspended one-year prison term and a fine, two people familiar with the issue who declined to be identified said in May.
Munich prosecutors are probing Ackermann, bank chairman Clemens Boersig and former board member Tessen von Heydebreck, who in May testified in the Kirch lawsuit about the lender’s Jan. 29, 2002, management board meeting. Breuer is also among the suspects of the new probe based on his testimony. Earlier this month, prosecutors searched the bank’s offices and Breuer’s home.
Ackermann said he won’t seek the chairman role at the bank after he leaves the CEO post at the end of May.
The Breuer trial is scheduled to continue on Dec. 2.
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