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Business

Opinion: Just don't get caught!

Deutsche Bank has been hit with a record fine for rigging interest rates, but considers its executives exonerated. But can someone who apparently never has any knowledge of anything lead a bank, asks DW's Rolf Wenkel.

Money is nothing to play around with, because disputes over finances can destroy friendships and even divide families. It is therefore no wonder that many conflicts over money end up in court. And it is even less surprising that an entity like Deutsche Bank, which deals only with money, is currently at the center of more than 1,000 cases of litigation.

Although money managers at Germany's biggest bank are eager to draw a line under the Libor scandal by paying a penalty of about $2.5 billion to US and UK authorities, many questions remain unanswered and a raft of other problems facing the bank are still simmering away.

This cannot just be shrugged off by suggesting that whoever has a lot of money also has a lot of enemies and therefore needs good lawyers. Far too many of the scandals that Deutsche is embroiled in involve not merely civil but criminal offenses. It sems that anything goes to propel the bank from number 46 to number one in the global banking rankings.

A long list

There are many examples of the bank's unlawful actions over the years. For instance, a court in Munich ruled that Deutsche Bank was partly responsible for the bankruptcy of German media mogul Leo Kirch in 2002. In 2014, both parties finally agreed on a settlement costing the bank 925 million euros in damages.

Porträt - Rolf Wenkel

DW's Rolf Wenkel

But the criminal investigations against individual top managers of the bank on allegations of attempted fraud are still ongoing. The prosecution has brought charges against Deutsche Bank's co-chief executive Jürgen Fitschen as well as former top managers Josef Ackermann, Rolf Breuer and others, with the trial set to begin next week.

The public prosecutor's office in Frankfurt is also investigating Deutsche Bank on suspicion of tax evasion involving the trading of carbon permits. According to financial circles, German authorities launched a probe in April 2013 into alleged balance sheet manipulations during the 2008 financial crisis.

For more than five years now, the US Justice Department has been investigating financial institutions based in Switzerland for allegedly aiding and abetting tax evasion. Since 2013, Deutsche Bank has been on the hook as well, which prompted its Swiss unit to enter a US Justice Department self-reporting program for banks that believe they may have helped US citizens evade taxes.

The list of investigations and criminal proceedings is long.

Ignorance is bliss?

However, the strange thing is that Deutsche's senior management has always denied any knowledge of any wrongdoing whatsoever. Even now, after paying $2.5 billion, the bank attaches great importance to the statement that "no current or former member of the management was found to have been involved in or aware of misconduct in the trading division."

But believing this statement would mean that an executive who was in charge of the department that engaged in interest rate manipulation knew nothing about it. He was probably very pleased that his people were making so much money for the bank - and failed to look closely at what the traders were doing.

It must therefore be asked whether an executive who knew nothing about what was happening in his department and exhibits remarkable lapses of memory when it comes to important decisions of the board is at all capable of leading an institution as big as Deutsche Bank.

"We deeply regret this matter," said the bank's co-CEO's Jürgen Fitschen and Anshu Jain in a statement after the settlement with US and UK authorities. I can imagine how a comedian would complete this sentence: "… we deeply regret that we have been caught."

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