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Deutsche Bank co-CEO Fitschen charged with obstructing justice

German Federation Of Industry CongressGerman Federation Of Industry Congress
Heavily indebted Kirch collapsed after former Deutsche CEO Breuer questioned its credit-worthiness. Sean Gallup--Getty Images

The mills of God grind slow…but those of the German justice system grind even slower.

After months of investigations, state prosecutors in Munich have charged one of Deutsche Bank AG’s (DB) two co-CEOs and four more former Deutsche managers with attempting to obstruct justice, by giving misleading testimony in a case that related to the collapse of media mogul Leo Kirch’s TV empire in 2002.

In a statement, Munich Appeal Court Judge Andrea Titz cited Jürgen Fitschen along with former CEOs Josef Ackermann and Rolf Breuer, former supervisory board chairman Clemens Börsig and a fourth, unnamed manager. The last two will also face charges of perjury.

The move, which effectively accuses three generations of Deutsche’s top leadership of misleading the court, is a fresh blow to the reputation of Germany’s largest and most prestigious bank.

Lawsuits have rained down on it thick and fast since the 2008 crisis, largely from clients claiming they were mis-sold complex financial products. At the same time, Deutsche is under heavy pressure from both its home regulator Bafin over its possible role in the manipulation of benchmark market interest rates, and from U.S. regulators, who think it has inadequate capital reserves and poor internal controls at its huge operations here.

But the Kirch saga has been the longest-running sore of all.

Kirch had sued Deutsche for damages after Breuer said in a TV interview in 2002 that lenders weren’t prepared to refinance his cash-strapped empire on the same terms that Kirch had had before. The Kirch Group, at that time the biggest private TV operator in Germany, had to file for insolvency shortly afterwards.

Kirch died in 2011, before the suit could be concluded, but Deutsche settled with his heirs in February this year, agreeing to pay €775 million in damages and another €150 million in interest and costs. Separately, Breuer paid €350,000 to settle allegations against him personally.

The court in Munich hearing the case had expressed an opinion in 2011 that it didn’t consider Breuer’s testimony credible, prompting the state attorneys to start building their case not only against him, but against the successors who had stuck to his line in an effort to defend the bank.

Deutsche said in an e-mailed statement that “It is Deutsche Bank’s policy not to comment on ongoing litigation. We refer, instead, to our previous statements underlining our belief that the allegation against Jürgen Fitschen will prove unfounded.”

Judge Titz said in an e-mail that the trial would likely only begin next year.