Deutsche Bank AG’s Frankfurt headquarters were raided today as part of a new probe of fraud allegations related to lawsuits filed by the late Leo Kirch while the third top executive was put under investigation.
Munich prosecutors opened a new investigation against bank employees and attorneys who represented the lender. Private homes of the employees were also searched, Peter Preuss, the prosecutors’ spokesman, said by telephone. Stephan Leithner, the lender’s management board member for legal, compliance and personnel, is also a suspect in a related case, Preuss said.
Today’s raids on the bank and searches at two law firms last week show a 925 million-euro ($1.27 billion) settlement of Kirch’s civil lawsuits failed to resolve all the legal issues stemming from the 12-year-old dispute. Munich prosecutors are also investigating whether former executives and board members lied in their testimony about the case.
“It makes you wonder what drives Munich prosecutors to keep this up even after the settlement with Kirch,” said Hans-Peter Burghof, a professor of banking at the University of Hohenheim in Stuttgart. “Some prosecutor must be deeply angry about the bank and you wonder why.”
Deutsche Bank spokesman Christian Streckert confirmed that the lender’s offices were raided and declined to comment further. Ronald Weichert, a spokesman for the bank, declined to comment on Leithner’s involvement.
German law firms Gleiss Lutz and Hengeler Mueller were raided a week ago. Lawyers from both firms represented Deutsche Bank in various suits, which alleged the Frankfurt-based lender secretly plotted to bring about the end of the Kirch group, or to use that threat to force the media owner to appoint the lender as a restructuring adviser.
“The probe is reviewing suspicions that the suspects acted as co-perpetrators in committing attempted fraud,” Preuss said. “It is based on what the court was told in written and oral arguments.”
Former Chief Executive Officers Rolf Breuer and Josef Ackermann and co-chief executive officer Juergen Fitschen are being probed for attempted fraud for trying to fend off the Kirch claims by using inaccurate statements in court. In one of the suits, Ackermann testified that the bank didn’t seek any business from Kirch at the time.
Deutsche Bank has denied wrongdoing by any of them.
Leithner has been added as a suspect alongside the other executives in the probe, said Preuss. Fitschen and Leithner were responsible for what the bank argued in the Kirch suits, he said.
Leithner is the third current member of Deutsche Bank’s management board under investigation. Fitschen and the lender’s Chief Financial Officer Stefan Krause are being probed by Frankfurt prosecutors over a tax scheme related to carbon emission certificates. That case also targets a group of Deutsche Bank employees. The bank has denied the allegations.
Christian Seidenabel, a spokesman for Hengeler, said the firm won’t comment beyond confirming last week’s raids. Astrid Altmann Forbes, a spokeswoman for Gleiss Lutz, didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment. She had confirmed the raids yesterday and declined to comment further.
Markus Meier and Peter Heckel, lawyers at Hengeler, and Luidger Roeckrath, an attorney at Gleiss Lutz, represented Deutsche Bank in the Kirch suits. In court papers and legal arguments they asked the court to dismiss the cases, relying on the executives’ testimony. The three didn’t immediately reply to e-mails seeking comment.
After Kirch died in 2011, his heirs continued to fight the lawsuits against Deutsche Bank until the cases settled.