German bank executives go on trial for breach of fiduciary trust

Former directors of bailed-out lender HSH Nordbank due in court

Wed, Jul 24, 2013, 08:08

Former directors of bailed-out German lender HSH Nordbank will appear in court today in the first case of the entire executive board of a European bank facing trial for actions in the build-up to the financial crisis.

Hamburg prosecutors are charging the six men, who include former chief executive Dirk Jens Nonnenmacher and his predecessor Hans Berger, with breach of fiduciary trust.

Mr Nonnenmacher and former capital markets head Jochen Friedrich face additional charges of accounting fraud. The defendants have previously said they are not guilty, although in Germany an official plea is only presented at the final stage of a trial.

If found guilty, the former directors could face up to 10 years behind bars, although judges have often handed defendants in similar cases fines rather than jail sentences.

HSH, along with other regional state-owned German lenders known as landesbanks, lost billions of euros on risky investments in the financial crisis, forcing its owners to prop it up with a €3 billion capital injection and an additional €10 billion in loan guarantees.

While policy makers have responded to the financial crisis with rafts of new banking rules to prevent taxpayers from having to foot billions of euros in bailout bills, relatively few bank executives have so far been tried.

In Germany, where the second biggest lender Commerzbank and four landesbanks were among those taking state aid - so far only the former CEO of corporate lender IKB has been convicted.

He received a 10-month suspended sentence, after being found guilty of market manipulation. IKB received a €10 billion bailout in the crisis.

In Spain, close to 100 former bankers are being investigated following a property market collapse that nearly felled several lenders. One banker, the former CEO of Caja Madrid, now Bankia , spent time in custody although the case against him has now been partially dismissed.

In Britain, several former executives - from failed HBOS and bailed-out RBS - have been banned from taking senior financial positions but they have not faced criminal charges. Belgium, Austria and Portugal have also seen a few bank executives on trial and Iceland has made some headway dealing with past banking scandals.