Germany's Mannesmann affair has come back to haunt its six protagonists, including Deutsche Bank chief executive Josef Ackermann, a year after the men were acquitted on charges of breaching their fiduciary duties as directors of the telecoms group.
Germany's federal appeals court on Thursday said it would hear an appeal by the public prosecution service against those acquittals on October 20 and 21. The process could reverse the judgment of the Dusseldorf regional court.
“There could be a retrial, a partial retrial, or a confirmation of the original acquittal,” a court spokesman said.
In July last year, Mr Ackermann, previously a non-executive director at Mannesmann, was acquitted along with Klaus Esser, the former chief executive of the company, and four other directors.
At the heart of the case was a package of nearly €60m ($73m) of director bonuses, including €15m for Mr Esser, awarded after Vodafone of the UK acquired its German rival five years ago.
The affair caused widespread anger in Germany, where Anglo-American levels of remuneration have been rare at high-profile companies.
The defendants and their legal advisers struck a confident note on Thursday.
Mr Esser said: “The judgment of the Dusseldorf court was in our favour. This was a well-reasoned judgment on the basis of a six-month trial.”
Eberhard Kempf and Klaus Volk, Mr Ackermann's legal advisers, dismissed the appeal filed by the public prosecution service as vague and ungrounded in law, especially when it relied on “generally acknowledged elementary norms of unwritten law”.
“To talk about unwritten law is pretty unusual in Germany,” Mr Kempf said. “That is more the tradition in the UK. And in that case,” he quipped, “the UK tradition of [more generous] remuneration should be respected too.”
In an interview with the FT last month, Mr Ackermann dismissed speculation that he would resign in the event of a retrial.
“I have no reason to assume that we don't have very good [legal] arguments,” he said.
Some observers believe a likely outcome of the appeal hearing is that the acquittal of Joachim Funk, Mannesmann's former non-executive chairman, could be re-examined. Mr Funk was accused of suggesting that he be given a €3m bonus and then participating in a four-man committee vote on the proposal.
None of the defendants is expected to attend the appeal hearing in the southern German city of Karlsruhe.
Any retrial or partial retrial would take place in Dusseldorf or in another German city if the appeal court so ruled, probably in the first half of 2006.