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Deutsche Bank co-CEO Jürgen Fitschen acquitted

A Munich court has acquitted Deutsche Bank co-CEO Jürgen Fitschen and four former executives of fraud charges. The bankers had been accused of giving false testimony in a legal battle with the defunct Kirch media group.

Following a criminal trial spanning a year, Munich's District Court on Monday acquitted Jürgen Fitschen and his codefendants of misleading a court over the collapse of the Kirch media empire.

The five bankers had been

accused of lying under oath

to avoid paying damages sought by the late media mogul Leo Kirch in 2002.

Delivering the verdict, presiding judge Peter Noll said the alleged crimes could "not be proved."

Also acquitted were Fitschen's predecessors as Deutsche Bank CEOs, Josef Ackermann and Rolf Breuer, as well as two former executive board members, Clemens Börsig and Tessen von Heydebreck. Deutsche Bank and all of the men had always

rejected the allegations

.

An acquittal had widely been expected after the judge voiced doubts about the strength of the prosecution's case several months ago.

Prosecutors had demanded prison sentences for the bankers. They can now appeal the ruling.

Lengthy legal battle

Kirch, who died in 2011, blamed ex-Deutsche Bank head Rolf Breuer for paving the way for the collapse of his business empire by doubting the group's creditworthiness in a 2002 television interview.

The Kirch Group, which was the biggest private TV operator in Germany at the time, had to file for insolvency shortly thereafter.

The bankruptcy set off one of the country's most high-profile corporate disputes. It was settled in 2014 when Deutsche Bank agreed to pay a settlement of some 925 million euros ($1.05 billion) to the mogul's heirs. But prosecutors argued that Fitschen and his co-defendants had made false statements to hinder the payment of compensation.

nm/kms (Reuters, dpa)

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