Mannesmann case set for failure

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The Independent Online

The Deutsche Bank chief Josef Ackermann and five other former top Mannesmann executives were expected to be acquitted of corruption charges after a court stipulated yesterday that none of them were guilty of criminal activity during the company's controversial takeover by the British mobile phone giant Vodafone four years ago.

Mr Ackermann, the former Mannesmann chief executive, Klaus Esser and four other company supervisory board members went on trial in Dusseldorf two months ago charged with handing out €57m in illicit bonus payments to board members following the €150bn merger with Vodafone in 2000.

Prosecution lawyers had argued that the payments were made to bribe the Mannesmann board into accepting Vodafone's takeover bid. The trial was seen as significant because it represented a clash between German business practices and the Anglo-American variety, where large bonus payments are the norm. However after a meeting between defence and prosecution lawyers, the presiding judge issued a statement absolving the six accused of the total of seven corruption charges levelled against them. "The evidence provided has done nothing to substantiate the charges made by the prosecution," Judge Brigitte Koppenhoefer said.

She added that evidence heard by the court suggested that the accused were merely guilty of infringing German share laws, which could be dealt with by the civil courts.

Although prosecution lawyers pledged to continue with the case, the accused are highly unlikely to be convicted of criminal charges.