Coverage: Deutsche Bank co-CEO acquitted in criminal case
A Munich court acquitted Deutsche Bank co-CEO Jürgen Fitschen and his four codefendants on fraud charges after prosecutors accused the group of executives of providing false testimony in a long-running legal battle with the defunct Kirk media group.
Despite the legal victory, Fitschen is still expected to leave his role at the German bank in May.
The Associated Press had the day’s news:
Deutsche Bank co-CEO Juergen Fitschen has been acquitted of attempted fraud charges related to the bank’s long-running battle with the heirs of a now-deceased media mogul.
The regional court in Munich handed down the verdict Monday after a year-long trial. Also acquitted were Fitschen’s predecessors as CEO, Rolf Breuer and Josef Ackermann, as well as former board chairman Clemens Boersig and former top executive Tessen von Heydebreck.
Prosecutors said they had tried to deceive an appeals court in an attempt to shield Deutsche Bank from damages.
Kirch said Breuer’s statements in a 2002 television interview questioning his creditworthiness led to the bankruptcy of his media empire. Breuer said that “everything you can read and hear” is that the financial sector wasn’t prepared to loan more money to Kirch, a Deutsche Bank client.
Kirch’s indebted companies filed for bankruptcy protection several months later. Kirch sued for damages in a case that dragged out for years. He died in 2011.
German broadcaster Deutsche Welle explained how the presiding judge felt the prosecution was unable to confidently link the bankers with the alleged crimes:
Following a criminal trial spanning a year, Munich’s District Court on Monday acquitted Jürgen Fitschen and his codefendants of misleading a court over the collapse of the Kirch media empire.
The five bankers had been accused of lying under oath to avoid paying damages sought by the late media mogul Leo Kirch in 2002.
Delivering the verdict, presiding judge Peter Noll said the alleged crimes could “not be proved.”
Also acquitted were Fitschen’s predecessors as Deutsche Bank CEOs, Josef Ackermann and Rolf Breuer, as well as two former executive board members, Clemens Börsig and Tessen von Heydebreck. Deutsche Bank and all of the men had always rejected the allegations.
An acquittal had widely been expected after the judge voiced doubts about the strength of the prosecution’s case several months ago.
Prosecutors had demanded prison sentences for the bankers. They can now appeal the ruling.
Ulrike Dauer and Madeleine Nissen of The Wall Street Journal detailed the background of the case:
The suit stems from a 2002 television interview given by Deutsche Bank’s then-CEO, Mr. Breuer, in which he said that the financial sector seemed unwilling to provide any further loans or equity to the Kirch Group. The late Mr. Kirch, a Deutsche Bank client, sued the bank, accusing Mr. Breuer of violating his confidentiality rights under German banking laws. He also alleged that Mr. Breuer tried to damage his company to obtain a lucrative deal to split up the media empire.
The parties settled the dispute on the Kirch company’s downfall last year, with Deutsche Bank agreeing to pay roughly €925 million ($1.04 billion) to Mr. Kirch’s heirs, though without admitting to any wrongdoing and denying the allegations.
Although that dispute has since been settled, Bavarian prosecutors began in 2011 to investigate whether former bank executives had given inaccurate testimony in court to avoid a costly fine for the bank. Mr. Fitschen, who had also testified in hearings, was included as a subject of investigation in 2013.