Court acquits Deutsche Bank's Co-CEO Fitschen in trial over Kirch case

By Jörn Poltz

MUNICH (Reuters) - Deutsche Bank's co-chief executive Juergen Fitschen has been acquitted of charges of misleading a court in connection with the 2002 Kirch media empire collapse, closing a painful chapter after 14 years of legal wrangling.

The presiding judge said on Monday that he found no evidence of the prosecution's allegations that Fitschen and his co-defendants gave misleading evidence in an earlier trial in connection with the Kirch bankruptcy.

"The alleged criminal offences could not be proved," judge Peter Noll said. The prosecution can appeal the ruling.

Along with the Kirch lawsuit, Deutsche Bank has been dealing with a string of other legal issues, which have cost Germany's flagship bank billions of euros in fines, settlements and legal costs and contributed to its record loss in 2015.

This has also been a distraction for management who are attempting to overhaul the bank to revive profitability.

Leo Kirch, who died in 2011, had blamed former Deutsche Bank chairman Rolf Breuer for triggering his group's downfall by questioning its creditworthiness in a 2002 television interview.

The Kirch case became one of Germany's most acrimonious corporate disputes. Deutsche Bank settled a civil suit in February 2014 in a deal costing about 925 million euros (£720.06 million).

Munich prosecutors had accused Fitschen as well as his predecessors Rolf Breuer and Josef Ackermann and other former senior managers of misleading an appeals court to avoid paying damages sought by media mogul Leo Kirch.

Fitschen and his co-defendants, who, if convicted, could have faced a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, denied the charges from the beginning.

(Writing by Arno Schuetze and Jonathan Gould; Editing by Jane Merriman and Harro ten Wolde)