In recent years, when the words “justice” and “Deutsche Bank” appear together in one sentence, it has usually spelled bad news for Germany’s largest financial institution.
But finally, that changed. Monday’s acquittal at the Kirch trial might not have come as a surprise, but the fact that co-CEO Jürgen Fitschen and all the other top bank executives were able to leave Munich Regional Court as respectable citizens after a year on trial is good news for Deutsche Bank. And, the fact is, good news has never been in such short supply at the bank as it is today.
It must be said that a “not guilty” verdict to charges of attempted fraud is unlikely to kickstart a string of positive developments – as much as the bank could use them. In fact, the news from Munich is likely to remain the only good news and will soon be overshadowed by all the dark clouds looming large over the bank’s future. Right now, for every problem the bank solves, at least one more is added – including those the bank is making for itself.
Right now for every problem the bank solves, at least one more is added – including those the bank is making for itself.
One such problem is the row in the supervisory board that has now become public. Alfred Herling, chairman Paul Achleitner’s deputy, attacked Georg Thoma in an unusually personal and vehement manner. Mr. Thoma, one of Germany’s most experienced business lawyers, is leading the supervisory board’s integrity committee. It’s responsible for ensuring that the bank complies with laws and regulations, and that is not necessarily a given, considering the many billions of euros the bank still has set aside for legal risks.
Nevertheless, Mr. Herling is accusing fellow board member Mr. Thoma of “overzealousness” and “judicial self-fulfillment” in the lawyer’s probing of the various affairs. But it isn’t just Mr. Herling, the labor representative on the supervisory board, who is taking shots at Mr. Thoma. The former head of SAP, Henning Kagermann, who represents the capital side in the supervisory board’s important presiding committee, is also blowing the horn for attack and demanding that the bank finally closes the chapter on legal risks and starts looking forward again.
Mr. Kagermann is certainly right about that. But a concentrated public attack against the internal chief investigator is the wrong way to exorcize the spirits of the past.
The continual demands by lawyer Mr. Thoma for new investigations might be extremely uncomfortable and pretty expensive for the bank, and it can’t be meticulous enough when it comes to clearing up the many, many scandals that Deutsche Bank has entangled itself in these past years. That is especially the case after the Frankfurt-based bank was accused of deliberately dragging out its investigation into the affair over manipulated global interest-rate benchmarks and, by doing so, may face even greater fines.
Thus each little additional mistake, no matter how small, could end up being fatal. Not to mention the fact that the top-level management, including the supervisory board, has been promising an uncompromisingly ruthless investigation of all the scandals.
The bank’s supervisory board is compromising its role as independent controller with this row being carried out in full view of the public. The suspicion could quickly arise that it isn’t about a lawyer’s investigative zeal but rather seeks to open a protective umbrella over the embattled chairman of the supervisory board, Mr. Achleitner prior to the annual general meeting, while also getting rid of Mr. Thoma, an unwelcome and dangerous internal critic.
The conflict in the supervisory board shows how deep the desperation has become at Deutsche Bank. Instead of concentrating on the necessary cleanup, the bank is once again consumed with power politics and trench warfare.
Fears are being fueled of Mr. Achleitner stepping down, of renewed chaos in the leadership and of an even deeper crisis at the bank. At the same time, the war among board members is being instigated just a few weeks before the bank’s annual general meeting – which makes it all the more likely that these dangers will actually become reality.
On May 19, Deutsche Bank is facing another tense shareholders’ meeting. A year ago, the shareholders passed a vote of no confidence in the management board led by Mr. Fitschen and Anshu Jain.
This time round, it will primarily be the supervisory board that will struggle for the support of the bank’s owners.
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