Thursday. November 24, 2011 -Rolf Breuer, Deutsche Bank AG’s former chief executive officer, appeared in court today to defend charges he lied in trial testimony, allegations similar to those leveled against his successor.
Breuer’s criminal trial was scheduled to start 10 days after the bank said current CEO Josef Ackermann is under investigation over testimony he gave earlier this year in a lawsuit brought by Leo Kirch. The charges against Breuer relate to a 2003 appearance in another Kirch suit.
The court delayed beginning the trial this morning, saying it first must handle a defense motion asking for presiding judge Anton Winkler to be removed for bias. The court will announce later today how it will proceed.
With Breuer’s trial opening in the shadow of the Ackermann probe, it will be more difficult for Deutsche Bank to defend its public image and may also hamper Breuer’s defense efforts, said Frank Saliger, a criminal law professor at Bucerius Law School in Hamburg.
“From a legal perspective, Breuer’s trial and the Ackermann probe are two different matters which need to be, and should be, handled strictly separately,” Saliger said. “But as a matter of fact, of course, all persons involved take notice of what happens. It’s difficult for an investigator to escape the feeling that one case is somehow backed by the fact that more similar probes evolved out of the same overall issue.”
Breuer’s attorney Sven Thomas and Ackermann’s lawyer Eberhard Kempf didn’t reply to e-mails seeking comment. Kirch’s allegations are baseless, said Christian Streckert, a spokesman for the Frankfurt-based lender.
It’s the second time a defense motion hindered the opening of Breuer’s trial. In August, it was postponed when Breuer’s lawyers sought time to review the panel of judges in the case.
Kirch, who died in July, was once one of Germany’s biggest media tycoons and pursued civil lawsuits against Breuer and the Deutsche Bank seeking at least 3.3 billion euros ($4.4 billion). The lawsuits, which are continuing after Kirch’s death, claim his company failed after Breuer questioned its creditworthiness in a 2002 Bloomberg TV interview.
The Breuer case will center on a 2003 appeals court hearing in Munich where he said his TV comments were based on what was publicly known at the time, not internal bank information. Breuer said he “had never seen the Kirch credit file” at the bank, nor correspondence with German financial regulators concerning Kirch, according to the indictment.
Among the witnesses scheduled to testify in the case is Deutsche Bank Chief Risk Officer Hugo Banziger, who was questioned by prosecutors before the court allowed the charges to go to trial. Banziger is scheduled to take the stand on Dec. 12. Members of the lender’s legal department have also been called by the court to testify on Dec. 7, though today’s defense motion may affect the timing.
Prosecutors claimed Breuer’s initials are on a copy of the regulator’s September 2001 letter, asking Deutsche Bank about its risks in light of Kirch’s financial problems, indicating he saw the document. They also cite an internal bank briefing about Kirch’s situation that Breuer attended.
Breuer refused to settle the case by accepting a suspended one-year prison term and a fine, two people familiar with the issue who declined to be identified said in May.
Munich prosecutors are probing Ackermann, bank chairman Clemens Boersig and former board member Tessen von Heydebreck, who in May testified in the Kirch lawsuit about the lender’s Jan. 29, 2002, management board meeting. Breuer is also among the suspects of the new probe based on his testimony. Earlier this month, prosecutors searched the bank’s offices and Breuer’s home.
Deutsche Bank, its former executives and Ackermann have denied any wrongdoing. Ackermann said he won’t seek the chairman role at the bank after he leaves the CEO post at the end of May.