Deutsche Bank CEO in court with predecessors over Kirch bankruptcy

Bank leaders accused of consipracy to co-ordinate false testimony

Deutsche Bank jointchief executive Jürgen Fitschen (fourth from right) and the former Deutsche Bank CEOs Rolf Breuer (third from right) and Josef Ackermann (fifth from right) wait for their trial in connection with the Kirch  bankruptcy in Munich. Photograph  by Jörg Koch/Getty Images

Deutsche Bank jointchief executive Jürgen Fitschen (fourth from right) and the former Deutsche Bank CEOs Rolf Breuer (third from right) and Josef Ackermann (fifth from right) wait for their trial in connection with the Kirch bankruptcy in Munich. Photograph by Jörg Koch/Getty Images

 

A fresh chapter in the long-running legal woes of Germany’s Deutsche Bank opened yesterday in Munich when joint chief executive Jürgen Fitschen appeared in court alongside his two predecessors.

Together with Josef Ackermann and Rolf Breuer, Mr Fitschen is accused of misleading a multi-billion lawsuit filed against the bank by Germany’s defunct media empire, Kirch Gruppe.

Munich state prosecutors say Mr Fitschen and his predecessors were part of a conspiracy to co-ordinate false testimony and manipulate legal briefs to deceive investigators in a compensation suit brought by Kirch founder Leo Kirch against Mr Breuer.

Kirch claimed Mr Breuer triggered his group’s bankruptcy in 2002 by questioning in a television interview the media organisation’s credit-worthiness, part of a deliberate strategy to earn fees as co-ordinator of an asset sale.

Mr Breuer and other bank executives disputed this, sparking a long-running legal battle which ended ending last year when Deutsche Bank paid a €925 million settlement to the heirs of Kirch, who died in 2011.

The case has returned to haunt the bank now after Munich state prosecutors charged Mr Fitschen, his two predecessors and two other board members, Clemens Börsig and Tessen von Heydebreck, with aggravated attempted fraud – a charge which carries potential sentences of up to 10 years in prison.

“All of the accused acted with the goal of causing the court to issue an unjustified ruling dismissing the suit by submitting incorrect statements,” said prosecutor Christiane Serini during her five-hour, 110-page opening statement. “This didn’t succeed because the Munich appeals court didn’t believe the incorrect information.”

She said Deutsche Bank embarked on its disinformation campaign in 2011 when the appeal judge said he believed Mr Breuer’s interview was part of a strategy to destabilise Kirch.

The prosecutor said Mr Fitschen was less involved in the conspiracy than others but that he had deliberately given “vague and inconclusive” testimony.

All men deny the charges. Counsel for Mr Fitschen said the charges are “unfounded, without exception” and the claim that Deutsche Bank wanted to see Kirch fail was “simply wrong”.

Mr Fitschen’s counsel Hanns Feigen also raised doubts yesterday about the objectivity of the state prosecutor.

Counsel for Mr Breuer said his client felt “hounded” by the Munich investigators and that it was “unbelievable” to claim that his 2002 remark about Kirch was part of a conspiracy to damage the company.

Deutsche Bank lawyers say they have new documentation that proves the board had no plans in 2002 to do any business with Kirch. The high-profile trial is likely to continue into the autumn. A guilty verdict could result in Deutsche Bank being fined up to €1 million.

The trial comes at a crucial time for Germany’s largest lender. On Monday the bank presented a €3.5 billion radical restructuring plan, including the sale of its Postbank high street subsidiary. Last week the bank agreed to pay a $2.5 billion fine to settle claims it was involved in rigging interest-rate benchmarks.