German media mogul Leo Kirch dies at age 84

FRANKFURT Thu Jul 14, 2011 8:17am EDT

German businessman Leo Kirch smiles as he arrives in a Munich courtroom March 25, 2011. REUTERS/Michael Dalder

German businessman Leo Kirch smiles as he arrives in a Munich courtroom March 25, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Michael Dalder

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FRANKFURT (Reuters) - German media tycoon Leo Kirch died on Thursday after years of illness and without ever resolving his protracted battle with Deutsche Bank, one of Germany's most bitter, drawn-out corporate disputes.

"Our beloved husband, father, brother, Dr. Leo Kirch died peacefully today in the company of his family. We are very sad," the family said in a brief statement on Thursday.

Kirch was 84 years old and suffered from diabetes.

Kirch, a media-shy devout catholic, owned Germany's first private TV channel, Sat.1 and helped build the country's largest commercial broadcaster ProSiebenSat.1.

He managed to construct his empire virtually out of nothing and during its peak employed 10,000 people. The remains of his company evolved into pay-TV company Premiere, now known as Sky Deutschland.

Almost to his death, Kirch relentlessly sought retribution from Deutsche Bank.

Alleging that former Deutsche Bank Chairman Rolf Breuer triggered Kirch Group's downfall by questioning the creditworthiness of his media empire in a 2002 Bloomberg Television interview, Kirch was seeking around 2 billion euros ($2.8 billion) in damages from the bank and Breuer.

At a court appearance in March, the diabetic octogenarian was wheelchair-bound and had to bring a friend to repeat to the court his whispered statements as he tried to get over a bout of bronchitis.

Kirch had launched lawsuits in the United States and in several different courts in Germany to recoup some of his losses, but he has had little success.

Trained in business administration and mathematics, Kirch originally built his business importing films from Hollywood and overseas into Germany. It eventually spanned television broadcasting, Formula One rights and publishing.

($1=.7054 Euro)

(Editing by Jon Loades-Carter)

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