Updated: 02/27/2013 23:04 | By Agence France-Presse

Fraud trial begins at German private bank Sal. Oppenheim

Former senior managers of Germany's oldest private bank, Sal. Oppenheim, appeared in the dock here Wednesday, accused of embezzlement in connection with fraudulent real estate deals.

On the first day of a trial that is expected to last all year, Matthias Count, Christopher Baron, Friedrich Carl Janssen and Dieter Pfundt heard the charges against them in the regional court in Cologne.

Josef Esch, a prominent real estate dealer in the Cologne area, is also on trial.

The five are accused of misusing bank assets in connection with three real estate deals worth 134 million euros ($175 million), public prosecutors said.

The men deny any wrongdoing.

According to prosecutors, the defendants purchased properties in Cologne and Frankfurt at elevated prices "in the full knowledge of damaging the bank."

The court in Cologne will seek to establish to what extent the defendants benefited personally from the deals.

If found guilty, they could face up to ten years in prison.

Sal. Oppenheim is the country's oldest private bank, catering to ultra-wealthy customers.

It was bought up by Germany's biggest private bank, Deutsche Bank, for an estimated 1.0 billion euros in 2010 after a number of investments went awry.

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