Deutsche Bank AG Co-Chief Executive Officer Juergen Fitschen’s lawyer said prosecutors withheld evidence for months proving the banker’s innocence in a criminal trial just days after Germany’s biggest lender was fined $2.5 billion for manipulating Libor.
Fitschen, along with former CEOs Rolf Breuer and Josef Ackermann and two others ex-bank officials, are charged with attempted fraud at the criminal trial that started Tuesday in Munich. The men are accused of participating in a plot that included false testimony, inaccurate legal briefs and elaborate witness preparation in response to a lawsuit over the collapse of the late Leo Kirch’s media conglomerate.
Documents found by prosecutors a year ago showed that the bank’s leaders didn’t seek restructuring work from crisis-ridden Kirch group in January 2002, disproving a central theory of the charges against Fitschen, his lawyer Hanns Feigen said. The documents were only disclosed in February after a deadline for the defense had elapsed, he said.
“The theory is plainly wrong,” according to Feigen. “Not even prosecutors are denying that any longer.”
Fitschen and co-CEO Anshu Jain, who isn’t in the case, are trying to rebuild the bank’s reputation and overcome investor skepticism on their ability to revive profit amid rising legal costs and weak capital buffers. In the biggest overhaul since taking charge three years ago, the bank said on Monday it plans to sell its consumer unit Postbank and shrink the securities business to cut costs.
Thomas Steinkraus-Koch, the prosecutors’ spokesman, said after the hearing that the case isn’t dead because of the new documents. Prosecutors are still convinced that the accused men used “illicit methods” in the Kirch litigation, which may lead to a criminal conviction regardless of the issue whether the bank sought work from Kirch at the time.
The criminal charges are part of the legacy of a 12-year-old dispute that Deutsche Bank sought to end when it settled with Kirch’s heirs last year over claims totaling 3.3 billion euros. The lender paid 925 million euros ($1 billion) to resolve the civil cases, hoping the step would appease prosecutors in the criminal probe.
Ex-Deutsche Bank Chairman Clemens Boersig and former board member Tessen von Heydebreck also went on trial Tuesday over what prosecutors said was their role in the conspiracy.
Lawyers for Ackermann, Boersig and Breuer also rejected the allegations in court. A lawyer for Von Heydebreck said he will comment later in the trial.
Kirch, who died in 2011 at the age of 84, had sued the bank, claiming Breuer caused his group’s demise when the then-bank CEO questioned its creditworthiness in a 2002 Bloomberg TV interview. His heirs continued the litigation after his death.
Prosecutors say that in 2011 the Deutsche Bank officials were afraid of losing the suit after a Munich appeals court indicated it was leaning toward taking Kirch’s side. The tribunal said that it considered the Breuer TV interview was part of a plan to destabilize Kirch and force him to give the bank a role in any restructuring.
Breuer’s lawyer Norbert Scharf said Tuesday the theory the bank had sought work from Kirch will be proven to be wrong.
“If you want to restructure, you won’t damage the company in an interview,” he said.