Friday

27th May 2016

Scandals drain Deutsche Bank's coffers

  • Deutsche Bank's headquarters in Frankfurt (Photo: alles banane)

Deutsche Bank, Germany's biggest lender, posted €2.2 billion losses in the last three months, largely due to a series of investigations into alleged fraud, tax evasion and rigging of the inter-bank Libor rate.

"We cannot exclude further legal challenges in the course of this year," co-chief executive Juergen Fitschen told a press conference on Thursday (31 January) when announcing the figures for 2012.

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One billion euro was spent on "litigation costs" in a series of scandals that emerged last year after the departure of former CEO Josef Ackermann, a Swiss banker who transformed the German lender into an international one, making profits mostly through risky investments on the US market.

Currently, Deutsche Bank is being investigated in Germany and abroad, together with other British and US banks, for allegedly rigging the interbank lending rate in London (Libor) and its euro-counterpart (Euribor).

Separately, the bank is being investigated in Germany for tax evasion and has to pay hundreds of millions in damages to the heirs of Leon Kirch, a businessman whose media empire went bust. The Kirch Group bankruptcy was accelerated by Deutsche Bank's former management, who made the problems public without Kirch's consent.

Deutsche Bank also played a prominent role in selling bets on bad US loans - the so-called subprime mortgages - to European customers in the run-up to the 2008 financial crisis. An Italian court in December convicted the bank for selling bad financial products to the city of Milan. Several similar cases may follow this year.

Fitschen and his co-chief executive Anshu Jain on Thursday insisted that the problems are all "sins of the past" and that a "change of culture" is under way.

They announced yearly cuts in expenditure by €4.5 billion until 2015, a cap on salaries, a reduction in bonuses and increased internal controls.

But when asked about trading with "structured debt obligations" - a financial product pooling together multiple bets on bonds and loans - Jain said these were "legal" and would continue to be part of their business, as they "reduce the risk" of the bank's balance sheet.

He also defended the bank's dealings with hedge funds, which place risky investments on the market and are part of the so-called shadow banking the EU is trying to regulate.

As for speculation with food prices, Deutsche Bank will continue to trade with financial products betting on agricultural products, despite an ongoing debate in Germany on the merits of these kinds of transactions.

"We had a working group studying this issue and the alleged connection to world hunger. They looked at it very seriously and could not establish a link," Fitschen argued.

Finance ministers baulk at tax-avoidance rules

Member states will discuss again in June a proposed directive to outlaw practices used by large companies to avoid paying taxes. Meanwhile, the European Parliament makes progress on its probe of Panama Papers.

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