Waiting Game

Legal Limbo for Deutsche Bank CEO

Deutsche Bank Fitschen dpa
What's ahead for Fitschen – and who will decide?
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    A complicated case against the Deutsche Bank co-chief could be handed off as the presiding judge is seeking a new post.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Jürgen Fitschen and former bank leaders are accused of colluding to provide false testimony in a lawsuit over the collapse of the Kirch Group media empire.
    • Mr. Fitschen is co-head of Frankfurt-based Deutsche Bank with Anshu Jain, who is not charged in the case.
    • Judge Peter Noll has overseen some of the most important commercial cases in Munich for more than 25 years.
  • Audio

    Audio

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Seldom have the career plans of a Munich judge been followed so closely in Frankfurt as those of Peter Noll, head of the Fifth Commercial Crime Court in Munich District Court.

That is because Mr. Noll is slated to decide whether to bring to trial the co-head of Deutsche Bank, Jürgen Fitschen, and several other former executives who worked at Germany’s largest bank in what would be one of the most spectacular trials in Germany’s financial world.

Federal prosecutors in Munich late last year accused the defendants — Mr. Fitschen, his predecessors Rolf E. Breuer and Josef Ackermann, and two other former managers — of lying during another long-running trial, one which involved the bankruptcy of the Kirch media group.

The executives are charged with colluding to provide false testimony in a lawsuit that was brought by Leo Kirch and his heirs. The alleged attempted fraud was done to avoid paying compensation over the collapse of Kirch, which the heirs argued was brought to its knees after Mr. Breuer questioned the media group’s credit worthiness. Mr. Kirch died in 2011.

The case remains in limbo and the 627-page indictment has been sitting on the judge’s desk for several months. A decision on whether the case should be brought to trial was expected this spring but that schedule is now in doubt.

A successor would first have to get familiar with the complicated case, which could cause months of delay.

Judge Noll is responsible for deciding whether full trial proceedings should go forward. But the German press agency DPA reported that the judge, who also presided over the trial of Formula One racing legend Bernie Ecclestone, has applied for a new position on the Munich Appellate Court.

If he gets the post, Judge Noll wants to leave the decision in the complex Deutsche Bank case to his successor. The father of three dismisses the possibility of deciding about the indictment and then leaving. “That would be bad manners,” he is quoted as saying.

Any successor would first have to get familiar with the complicated case, which could cause months of delay.

“A decision about the indictment is not expected as long as it is unclear whether Judge Noll will switch to the Appellate Court,” said court spokeswoman Margarete Nötzel, according to DPA.

Even in a new role, Judge Noll could still decide the fate of Mr. Fitschen and the former bank leaders. In such situations, German law allows judges to “take along” difficult cases.

Court spokeswoman Andrea Titz explained last week, in response to an inquiry from Handelsblatt, that the court had allowed the accused an extension until the end of January to react to the bill of indictment. That is not unusual considering of the length of the indictment, she said.

She said the proceedings could be “speeded up” after that, with a decision on whether to seek a full trial expected as early as March or as late as May.

Personnel decisions on judicial posts are made by independent committees consisting of judges who cast their votes in secret. If candidates are chosen for a judgeship by one of these committees, the justice minister still must appoint them.

According to DPA, a colleague of Mr. Noll’s has also applied for the same Appellate Court position. Judge Noll, who has overseen some of the most important commercial cases in Munich for more than 25 years, reportedly is not bothered.

“I also enjoy my current work here,” he said.

Nevertheless, news from Munich will be tensely awaited – not only in Frankfurt.

 

Kerstin Leitel covers banking and insurance for Handelsblatt and is based in Munich. To contact her: leitel@handelsblatt.com.

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