Deutsche Bank Co-CEO Close to Acquittal After Yearlong Trial

  • Munich court rejects bid by prosecutors for new search in case
  • Prosecutors seek prison terms for former bank executives

A Munich judge said prosecutors pursuing Deutsche Bank executives in a year-old criminal trial related to the collapse of Leo Kirch’s media empire have failed to prove the charges as the proceedings move to the final stages.

“This trial so far has shown that the allegations are unfounded,” Presiding Judge Peter Noll said shortly before closing arguments started Tuesday. The court rejected prosecutors’ request for more searches, saying they would be unlikely to produce new findings in a dispute that stretches back more than a decade.

Years of investigations and raids hadn’t produced evidence to back the attempted fraud charges and additional searches aren’t likely to strengthen the case against Co-Chief Executive Officer Juergen Fitschen, former CEOs Josef Ackermann and Rolf Breuer and two other former officials, Noll said Tuesday.

“Prosecutors are ignoring the results," Noll said in an unusually aggressive tone. Prosecutors have kept the court busy for weeks with motions for new evidence, forcing additional hearings where Noll made skeptical remarks about the merits of the case.

The verdict, which could come as soon as next week, will likely be 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.

Attempted Fraud

The Deutsche Bank executives are accused of deceiving judges in a civil lawsuit filed by Kirch and his heirs seeking 2 billion euros ($2.3 billion). The complaint claimed that Breuer caused the media company’s demise when questioning its creditworthiness in a Bloomberg Television interview aired Feb. 4, 2002.

Breuer’s defense attorney, Norbert Scharf, said the outcome has been clear for months, only prosecutors didn’t want to see it.

During their closing arguments following Noll’s comments, prosecutors asked the court to sentence Ackermann to 2 1/2 years and Breuer to 3 1/2 years.

Fitschen, who is scheduled to step down as co-CEO May 19, should get a 15-month suspended sentence and former chairman Clemens Boersig a 21-month suspended sentence. The two men could have their sentences suspended in exchange for payments of as much as 2.5 million euros, a standard practice under German law.

The bank should pay a 1 million-euro fine, prosecutor Stephan Necknig told the judges.

Prosecutors earlier this month asked the court for a search warrant to seize legal opinions commissioned by the Deutsche Bank supervisory board about Breuer’s liability to the bank in the Kirch case. The lender had declined to make the documents available, citing the privilege against self-incrimination.

New Information

The bid was prompted by the publication of the agenda for Deutsche Bank’s annual general meeting on May 19. Shareholders are scheduled to vote on a settlement between the bank and Breuer over damages the lender was seeking from its former CEO over the 2002 interview.

The agenda cites several legal opinions the supervisory board had commissioned on Breuer’s role, saying he violated his duties in the TV interview. Prosecutors argued Tuesday that new facts may emerge from the documents.

Under the settlement, Breuer has to pay 3.2 million euros. The fallout from his comments on Kirch cost the bank 1 billion euros, the lender said in the AGM agenda.

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