Deutsche Bank's co-chief executive Juergen Fitschen went on trial on Tuesday, accused of giving misleading evidence in connection with the collapse in 2002 of the Kirch media empire in a case that could prove a major distraction at a time when the bank is undergoing a strategic overhaul.
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In one of the highest-profile corporate trials in Germany, Fitschen, aged 66, has vowed to fight allegations he gave misleading testimony in a civil suit brought by heirs of the late media magnate Leo Kirch. The case is scheduled to run until at least September.
Prosecutor Christiane Serini said Fitschen and his four co-accused, including two former Deutsche Bank CEOs, Josef Ackermann and Rolf Breuer, misled an appeals court to avoid paying damages sought by Kirch during the civil case. The five have denied the charges.
“Fitschen offered vague and inconclusive evidence at his hearing,” Serini told the small courtroom, packed to capacity with five judges, a phalanx of lawyers and journalists.
Deutsche Bank settled the civil suit in February 2014 in a deal that cost the bank about 925 million euros ($1 billion) and ended 12 years of legal wrangling.
The bank's shares dropped over 4 percent after the plans were unveiled on Monday and slid a further 3.6 percent in morning trade in Frankfurt as investors queried its lack of ambition and detail.
“I don’t know why I’m being charged,” Fitschen said on Monday as the bank unveiled its Strategy 2020.
“I neither lied nor deceived,” he said earlier.
Fitschen is not only the co-CEO of Germany’s flagship bank but the head of Germany’s national banking lobby BdB, a high-profile position that puts him in close contact with regulators and policymakers.
He has rejected an offer from the prosecutor to settle the case out of court with a fine, sources close to the matter said.
In addition to the current and former CEOs of Germany's largest bank, two former management board members of Deutsche, Clemens Boersig and Tessen von Heydebreck, are also on trial.
Fitschen and Anshu Jain took over as co-CEOs in 2012 and their tenure has been marked by weak returns and a share price that has trailed rivals. The bank has been dogged by legal woes, including investigations into possible manipulation of benchmark currency rates and dealings with Iran, as the duo work to trim down the group’s universal business model.
Kirch, who died in 2011, blamed Rolf Breuer, Deutsche Bank's chief executive and later chairman, for triggering his media group's downfall by questioning its creditworthiness in a 2002 television interview. Kirch sought for years to recoup about 2 billion euros ($2.7 billion) in damages
Deutsche Bank said on Tuesday it was its policy not to comment on active litigation but maintained that it was "convinced that any suspicion against Juergen Fitschen will be shown to be unfounded."
"The presumption of innocence applies to all former and current management board members,” the bank has said previously.
(Additional reporting by Joern Poltz. Editing by Carmel Crimmins and Greg Mahlich)