RWE, the German utility, was rocked by fresh turbulence on Wednesday after the chairman of its supervisory board said he would step down.

Thomas Fischer, the former chief executive of West LB, the German public bank, said he plans to step aside at the board’s next meeting due to personal reasons.

However, he later told shareholders that he was also “angry and outraged” that confidential supervisory board discussions had been leaked to the press.

Mr Fischer has chaired RWE’s supervisory body since 2004 and remained in the role in spite of his dismissal in 2007 from WestLB amid huge equity trading losses at the bank.

He indicated on Wednesday that he may remain as an ordinary member of the supervisory board, meaning a new chairman may have to be found among its existing ranks. They include Ekkehard Schulz, chief executive of steelmaker ThyssenKrupp, and Paul Achleitner, a board member at Allianz.

However, Mr Schulz recently told colleagues that he was not available for the position. ThyssenKrupp declined to comment.

Addressing the Essen-based company’s annual general meeting, Juergen Grossmann, chief executive, did not immediately comment on the announcement, which comes amid reports of strained relations with the supervisory board.

Even by German standards, RWE’s supervisory board structure is complicated as it includes representatives of German municipalities, who together control a quarter of the group’s shares. Since becoming chief executive in 2007, Mr Grossmann has attempted to shake up the complicated and somewhat antiquated structure.

Mr Grossmann in February announced plans to merge two German regional divisions and dissolve RWE Energy, their intermediate holding company, which enhanced the power of the executive board at the expense of individual divisions.

Shareholders demanded an explanation over a series of leaks from confidential board meetings, including a report in Der Spiegel, the German news magazine, that some members had called for Mr Grossmann to resign.

In spite of these difficulties, Mr Grossmann has won praise for his leadership, which has helped RWE emerge from the shadow of Eon, its larger German rival, and left it well-positioned to cope with the economic crisis.

RWE confirmed on Wednesday its profit targets till 2012, saying it expects 2009 earnings will be on a par with last year’s figures. “From today’s point of view we don’t expect the repercussions of the crisis will seriously endanger our earnings,” Mr Grossmann said.

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