* Munich court lets prosecution proceed with case
* Trial due to start on April 28
* Deutsche Bank says presumption of innocence applies (Adds court statement, background, shareholder quote)
By Jörn Poltz and Thomas Atkins
MUNICH/FRANKFURT, March 2 (Reuters) - Deutsche Bank co-CEO Juergen Fitschen faces a lengthy trial connected to the Kirch bankruptcy after a court agreed to hear the case in a blow to one of Germany’s most powerful bankers and a setback for its largest bank.
The Munich district court on Monday decided to let the prosecution proceed with a trial of Fitschen and four former executives at the bank following months of deliberation.
While widely expected, the prospect of a lengthy trial adds to legal headaches facing Deutsche, which plans to unveil a new strategy as early as the end of this month.
A spokesman said it was Deutsche Bank’s policy not to comment on ongoing litigation. “The presumption of innocence applies to all former and current management board members,” he said.
The trial, scheduled to begin on April 28, will see Fitschen joined on the defendants’ bench by former CEOs Josef Ackermann and Rolf Breuer and two former management board members, Clemens Boersig and Tessen von Heydebreck.
Prosecutors last year requested a trial after investigating whether the accused gave misleading evidence in a civil suit, brought by heirs of the late media magnate Leo Kirch, which ended in February 2014 after 12 years of legal wrangling.
Those facing the allegations could not be immediately reached for comment on Monday. Deutsche Bank has previously said that it is “convinced that any suspicion against Juergen Fitschen will be shown to be unfounded”.
Klaus Nieding, spokesman for Germany’s small shareholders association DSW said similar processes have proven lengthy but that the bank’s dual-CEO structure would allow Fitschen to continue in his job through the duration.
“It’s another black stain for the bank,” Nieding added.
The prosecutor alleges that Fitschen testified in the civil suit in a way to avoid discrediting fellow bankers in order that the case be dismissed, according to a prosecutor’s media statement released in September 2014.
Fitschen and Anshu Jain took over as co-CEOs in 2012. The bank has been dogged by legal woes, including investigations into possible manipulation of benchmark interest rates and foreign exchange markets, as the duo work to meet strict new capital requirements from regulators.
Kirch, who died in 2011, blamed the country’s largest lender for his group’s demise, setting off one of Germany’s most acrimonious corporate disputes, which was settled in a deal costing Deutsche about 925 million euros ($1 billion).
The bank’s supervisory board will support Fitschen if the case comes to trial, two sources on the board told Reuters last year.
Fitschen’s predecessor Ackermann ran Deutsche while spending months in the courtroom in the Mannesmann case in 2006. Ackermann and other defendants ultimately ended the case by agreeing a cash settlement with authorities.
($1 = 0.8914 euros)
Additional reporting by Frank Siebelt and Andreas Kroener; Writing by Thomas Atkins; Editing by Arno Schuetze and Pravin Char