Nov. 14 (Bloomberg) -- Deutsche Bank AG Chief Executive Officer Josef Ackermann’s testimony in a civil lawsuit about the 2002 demise of the late Leo Kirch’s media group is being investigated by prosecutors.
Along with Ackermann, former Deutsche Bank CEO Rolf Breuer and other officials who testified are being investigated, bank spokesman Detlev Rahmsdorf said in an interview. Munich prosecutors searched Deutsche Bank offices as part of the case. The lender separately filed a motion to have the three judges in the 2 billion-euro ($2.7 billion) civil case removed because of “possible illicit cooperation” with prosecutors, he said.
The bank “immediately filed to have the bench removed” when it learned of the issue last week, Rahmsdorf said today. He called the criminal probe “baseless.”
After the probe was reported today, Deutsche Bank said Ackermann, 63, withdrew as a candidate for chairman. The lender said in a statement that Ackermann wouldn’t run when he steps down as CEO in 2012 because Europe’s debt crisis demands too much of his time.
Kirch and other bank managers in May testified about a management board meeting on Jan. 29, 2002, as part of the lawsuit filed by Kirch. They were quizzed by judges over the wording from minutes of the board meeting, discussing a possible Kirch group restructuring. Ackermann declined to comment on the case.
Breuer, who is facing a criminal trial over a related issue later this month, resigned as chairman after Germany’s highest civil court ruled in 2006 he was wrong to question Kirch’s creditworthiness on Bloomberg Television in 2002.
Kirch, who died in July, claimed Deutsche Bank secretly planned in 2002 to damage his reputation. Part of that plan, Kirch claimed, was Breuer’s interview, in which he said it was clear the financial markets weren’t going to provide Kirch Media more funding. Within months, the company filed the country’s biggest bankruptcy since World War II.
Barbara Stockinger, a spokeswoman for Munich prosecutors, confirmed her office is probing bank managers in connection with a civil suit over allegations of attempted fraud. She declined to name any suspects. Bank offices as well as the home of one suspect were raided as part of the case last week, she said.
Ackermann is to be replaced at the helm of Germany’s biggest bank by Anshu Jain, who runs the corporate and investment bank, and Germany head Juergen Fitschen. The plan was to then make Ackermann chairman of the supervisory board. The bank announced today that Paul Achleitner, currently member of the board of management of Allianz S.E., will now become chairman instead.
Ackermann has run the company since 2002 and helped steer it through the credit crunch following the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. without a state bailout.
Breuer’s criminal trial over similar allegations about testimony he gave in a related case is scheduled to start Nov. 24. He has denied any wrongdoing.
The Munich appeals court was scheduled to hear testimony from Friede Springer in the civil case today, in relation to claims by Kirch that she worked with the bank to acquire Kirch’s 40 percent stake in Axel Springer AG. Kirch pledged the stake in the publisher as collateral for a loan from the bank.
Ackermann has been in the media spotlight before because of legal proceedings. As a member of the board of Mannesmann AG, he stood trial for breach of trust in 2004 in connection with the approval of more than 57 million euros in bonuses for executives during the takeover by Vodafone Group Plc. Ackermann, acquitted in a first trial, later settled the charges.
The civil case is: OLG Muenchen, 5 U 2472/09.
--With assistance from Aaron Kirchfeld in Frankfurt. Editors: Anthony Aarons, Frank Connelly
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