Deutsche Bank faces shareholder ire over legal disputes

Tuesday, 16 April 2013 00:19 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

REUTERS: Deutsche Bank said there was no end in sight to its legal dispute with the representatives of deceased media mogul Leo Kirch, as it faced jeers from shareholders who fear the bank is being distracted by a string of court cases and scandals.

Chief Executive Juergen Fitschen told an extraordinary shareholder meeting; called after Kirch’s supporters contested the bank’s 2012 annual general meeting, claiming that Germany’s flagship lender had set aside money to cover the cost of one of the country’s longest running and most bitter corporate battles. But he warned: “An end of the proceedings is not in sight.”

Deutsche Bank is embroiled in a string of disputes, including a carbon trading scandal and allegations of mis-selling complex financial products, and is one of a dozen banks being probed for allegedly rigging benchmark interest rates.

Last month, the bank said it had increased litigation provisions for regulatory and legal disputes to 2.4 billion euros (US$3.1 billion) and that it had set aside a further 1.5 billion euros for contingent liabilities.

Shareholders at the meeting on Thursday expressed dismay the decade-long battle with Kirch and his representatives was dragging on, as well as concern that managers were being distracted from running Germany’s biggest bank.

“Enough is enough. Shareholder rights are being abused. A private vendetta is being carried out at the expense of all shareholders,” said Klaus Nieding, a lawyer representing DSW, Germany’s largest association for private investors.

“Stop holding us all to ransom and resolve your dispute in court, not here,” Nieding said to general applause.

Kirch had claimed ex-Deutsche Bank Chief Executive and later Chairman Rolf Breuer triggered his media group’s downfall by questioning its creditworthiness in a 2002 television interview. He sought for years to recoup about 2 billion euros (US$2.6 billion) in damages.

In November, Munich judge Guido Kotschy said Kirch had suffered damages of between 120 million euros and 1.5 billion. A final amount in damages has yet to be determined.

Deutsche Bank said it maintained that the claims made by Kirch have no merit and Fitschen said there were currently no negotiations to reach a settlement.

As part of the dispute, Kirch’s supporters contested the bank’s AGM last year, saying speaking time for shareholders was restricted, the notary did not take comprehensive minutes, and the meeting was chaired by the wrong person.

A Frankfurt court in December ruled Kirch’s representatives should have been given more time to speak at the AGM, forcing Deutsche Bank to repeat the meeting.

Ingo Speich, a fund manager at Union investment, said the fact shareholders had to attend an extra meeting was a sign Deutsche Bank was getting overwhelmed with legal problems.

“Please ensure that Deutsche Bank can return to its operating business,” Speich said to Paul Achleitner, the bank’s new chairman. “Take a look at the bank’s corporate governance; past events show there is room for improvement.”

For the first time ever, Deutsche Bank erected a waist-high grey perimeter fence to prevent shareholders getting too close to members of the management and supervisory board, including co-chief executives Anshu Jain and Fitschen.

Fitschen attempted to quell discontent at the meeting in the outskirts of Frankfurt, but was interrupted by angry investors.

“An extraordinary general meeting is something new to all of us at Deutsche Bank. Certainly we do not want to make it a habit, but circumstances forced us to take this step,” Fitschen said, amid heckling from the audience.

“Why doesn’t the other guy say anything,” a bespectacled shareholder clad in a black blazer interrupted, pointing at Anshu Jain, who spent hours silently listening to shareholder complaints.

Fitschen declined to put a figure on the amount set aside to cover the Kirch dispute, but said the bank had spent a low double-digit million euros in legal fees in a case which has been fought in courtrooms across Germany and the United States.