If Jürgen Fitschen knew what was coming, he didn’t show it. Deutsche Bank’s co-chief executive appeared in a panel discussion at the „Day of German Industry“ in Berlin on Wednesday, discussing the image of the financial sector at approximately the same time that newswires flashed the news that he had been publicly charged with making misleading statements before court.
Perhaps this is because he knew what was about to happen. The fact that Mr. Fitschen and four other former executives have been indicted for their role in the long-running case surrounding the collapse of Leo Kirch’s media empire has long been known by the bank. The decision by Munich prosecutors to move forward was already reached in August, according to Handelsblatt sources, but they couldn’t publicly release the charges until all parties acknowledged they had received the 627-page indictment.
This point was finally reached on Wednesday. State prosecutors in Munich have now set the stage for what could be the most spectacular trial in the history of Germany’s financial sector. Former chief executives Josef Ackermann and Rolf Breuer, as well as former board members Clemens Börsig and Tessen von Heydebreck could also be brought to trial. Deutsche Bank, Germany’s largest bank, could also face a fine.
Munich-based judge Peter Noll will now have to decide whether to bring the matter to trial. Experts say a decision is not likely until next year – defendants have six weeks to make their own statements to the court and could well get an extension given the case’s complexity. But the judge on the case has not shirked away from bringing high-profile cases to trial in the past. He recently made headlines by presiding over the trial of Formula 1 boss Bernie Ecclestone.
It is unlikely that prosecutors would file formal charges if they didn’t believe the case could move to trial. Legal guidelines for the presiding judge are that there has to be about a 50-percent chance or more that the defendants could be convicted in order to bring the case to court. In practice, experts said it is rare that such cases are not pushed to trial in Germany.