(Bloomberg) -- For a pair of former Deutsche Bank AG lawyers who nearly spent Christmas in jail in 2012, a ruling from a German court last month was at least partial -- if belated -- redemption.
A Frankfurt appeals court last month ruled that there wasn’t enough evidence for an arrest warrant to support prosecutors suspicions that the two in-house lawyers -- Michael Schroeder and Peter Lindt -- were conspiring to obstruct a probe into a carbon-emission tax scheme.
“I’m finally rehabilitated, but only after a long march through all court levels,” said Schroeder, 61, who fought the case on his own for years even after prosecutors had dropped the probe in 2017.
The two lawyers were among several employees arrested in high-profile raids featuring at least 10 police police cars outside the bank’s offices two weeks before Christmas in 2012. They were held in prison for a week and released days before the holiday only after prosecutors decided they were no longer a threat to destroy evidence.
But the Frankfurt court ruled last month, in a decision that hasn’t previously been reported, that prosecutors didn’t have enough evidence that Schroeder, who worked with Lindt, tried to obstruct the probe.
"I’m happy that after almost seven years it’s now been explicitly said what everyone who knew us personally have always been convinced of," said the 52-year-old Lindt, who was head of litigation in 2012. "Whether prosecutors themselves believed in their allegations, we will never know."
Investigators had claimed that the men worked with IT staff to cover up emails that might have implicated other bank employees in a value-added tax scheme involving the sale of carbon emission certificates. A few months later, it turned out a lapse by outside IT-service providers was responsible for the failure to supply the emails.
"At the time the arrest warrant was issued, there was no pressing suspicion the suspect attempted to commit obstruction of justice," the judges wrote. "There was only an assumption that was never adequately backed by the facts."
The March ruling was released as the bank has faced a new investigation that spurred a raid on its Frankfurt offices. In late November, prosecutors searched Deutsche Bank’s headquarters for at least two days in a money-laundering probe related to disclosures in the Panama Papers about how wealthy individuals avoided taxes.
The searches in 2012 made global headlines as the raids were conducted with maximum visibility. Police vans parked in front of the bank’s Frankfurt headquarters and officers wore guns in front of TV cameras. Even Juergen Fitschen, co-chief executive officer at the time, was a suspect in the tax case, but prosecutors later dropped the probe against him.
"We’re are pleased about this success in court for our former employee,” Deutsche Bank spokesman Christian Streckert said in a statement. Andreas Badle, a spokesman for Frankfurt prosecutors, said that they accept the ruling.
The allegations against the two lawyers and the IT specialists had been dropped in 2017, but Schroeder had continued to push for a ruling that would completely clear his name.
Rebuffed by three tribunals, Germany’s constitutional court turned the tide when it ordered the Frankfurt Appeals Court to reassess the case, leading to last month’s ruling. Both men’s careers at the bank had stalled after the raids, with Lindt going into private practice and Schroeder taking early retirement.
“Already at the end of 2012, the allegations weren’t based on facts but on ‘mere assumptions’ by the Frankfurt General Prosecutor’s Office,” Schroeder said.
The ruling is: OLG Frankfurt am Main, 1 Ws 180/14.
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