Deutsche Bank chief attacked as the 'locust' stripping Germany bare

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The Independent Online

Deutsche Bank's annual meeting yesterday was overshadowed by a string of legal issues threatening its top executives, Josef Ackermann and Rolf Breuer, and the public debate about whether Mr Ackermann was a leader of the so-called "locusts" deemed to be ruining the German economy.

Deutsche Bank's annual meeting yesterday was overshadowed by a string of legal issues threatening its top executives, Josef Ackermann and Rolf Breuer, and the public debate about whether Mr Ackermann was a leader of the so-called "locusts" deemed to be ruining the German economy.

The leader of the ruling Social Democratic Party recently sparked an "anti-capitalism" debate when he likened hedge funds and other short-term investors to locusts that descend on Germany to strip the country of cash and jobs. The SPD has even drawn up a blacklist of "capitalist" companies, including Deutsche Bank, which it has labelled as socially irresponsible for announcing 6,400 job cuts.

Shareholders raised the issue at the meeting in Frankfurt. Klaus Nieding, who represented an investor rights group, said the announcement of thousands of job cuts at a time when the bank's first-quarter profits surged to a four-year high of €1.8bn (£1.2bn)would do little to improve its image.

He said: "That is the reason why in the public debate the locusts are now led by an insect that bears the face of Mr Ackermann."

In making his point, Mr Nieding used the rather poetic word antlitz to refer to Mr Ackermann's face.

Mr Ackermann, the chief executive of Germany's largest bank, defendedthe "social market economy" which alone could guarantee wealth, growth and employment. Remaining in the same seat for the whole day's debate, which was attended by more than 5,000 shareholders, he likened the language of the anti-capitalism debate to the phrases used by the communist regime of the former East Germany. He said: "No one, at least no one I know, wants 'pure capitalism' and certainly not 'predatory capitalism.' These are phrases from the socialist era and we all know where that led."

With protesters picketing outside the meeting to oppose the job cuts, the Deutsche Bank chiefs did their best to defend them. They said the losses, of which 1,920 will fall in Germany and 600 in London, were "necessary" to maintain competitiveness.

Ironically, Mr Breuer, who heads Deutsche Bank's supervisory board, was unseated from the same role at Deutsche Börse last week by archetypal "locusts" - US and UK hedge funds that opposed Börse's takeover bid for the London Stock Exchange.

Mr Ackermann, meanwhile, faces the threat of a second lengthy trial over payments made to fellow Mannesmann directors after it was taken over by Vodafone in 2000. He was cleared of approving the bonuses worth millions of euros in July, but now Germany's top federal prosecutor has backed an attempt by lawyers to have the verdict overturned. It is thought that the federal court will order a retrial this year.

Mr Breuer, in his first public appearance since being ousted from Deutsche Börse, yesterday faced a call for his dismissal as Deutsche Bank's chairman from representatives of Leo Kirch, the fallen media mogul, who also continues legal action against him.

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