Way Out

Plea Bargaining Bavarians Leave Justice in the Wake

I got a good deal. How about you?
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    In Munich big name business people get charged with crimes, but plea bargain their way out of a court date by paying cash in exchange for a trial.

  • Facts


    • Formula One racing boss Bernie Ecclestone paid €75 million ($100 million) to free himself of an accusation.
    • Michael Kemmer, the former head of BayernLB and now general manager of the Association of German Banks, probably will pay €20,000.
    • Such legal arrangements leave the public largely in the dark.
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Justice has a fee schedule. The amount for settling a business lawsuit can vary between €20,000 ($26,389) and €75 million. These extremes were set within a couple of weeks by the Munich district court. It has developed into a sort of hub of the new dispensation of justice meted out according to euros and cents.

The geriatric but still powerful Formula One racing impresario Bernie Ecclestone paid €75 million to free himself of the indictment for bribery of an official – the same offense for which he is still sitting in jail, by the way.

This week, Michael Kemmer, the former head of BayernLB and now general manager of the Association of German Banks, will probably pay €20,000. Then, like three other colleagues, he must no longer defend himself against the accusation of having misappropriated assets because the sale of the Austrian Hypo Alpe Adria Group proved to be an economic mistake of the highest order.

Mr. Ecclestone and Mr. Kemmer are prominent figures in Germany’s business world. The trials and tribulations of a major state bank that wanted to be even bigger and, in a loss of reality, thought it could do anything have brought the Brit and the German together – as did the tendency of the public prosecutor’s office to stage a big trial and let it end in a deal that knows no verdict: only a cash amount to be paid into the state coffers.

This isn’t satisfactory. First, dirt is stirred up in such legal proceedings, then the accused have to endure critical press reports, and finally the astounded public doesn’t learn the facts of the case but rather just the euro amount to which all parties have agreed. 

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