Conservative lawmakers slam German economy minister over Deutsche remarks

BERLIN (Reuters) - Conservative lawmakers lashed out at Germany’s economy minister on Tuesday for attacking Deutsche Bank’s chief executive, saying the minister’s job was to support the country’s biggest bank, not talk it down.

German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel attends a press conference after the Franco-German Financial Council meeting in Berlin, Germany, September 23, 2016. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt

Sigmar Gabriel, the economy minister and leader of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s junior coalition partner, the Social Democrats, criticized Deutsche Bank CEO John Cryan for blaming speculators when the bank’s share price plunged last week.

“I did not know if I should laugh or cry that the bank that made speculation a business model is now saying it is a victim of speculators,” Gabriel told reporters on a plane to Iran.

Hans Michelbach, a senior member of Merkel’s conservative bloc, called Gabriel’s remarks “pretty counterproductive.”

“As German economy minister, your task is to promote Germany as a place to do business and not to bad-mouth individual market participants,” he told the newspaper Handelsblatt.

Germany needs Deutsche Bank, which employs around 100,000 people, if its export-orientated economy is to fulfill its potential, Michelbach added.

“Therefore, it’s inconceivable that Mr Gabriel could let himself get carried away with such comments,” he said.

Deutsche Bank has been engulfed by a crisis of confidence after the U.S. Department of Justice demanded last month that it pay up to $14 billion to settle claims it mis-sold U.S. mortgage-backed securities before the financial crisis.

The threat of the penalty has pushed the bank’s shares to record lows. It is pushing to reach an agreement for a much smaller settlement, to reverse the stock sell-off and help to restore confidence [nL5N1C80G9].

Gabriel said he was worried for the people who worked at the bank, but conservatives accused him of playing politics.

“I’m not just worried about employees, but also about the German economy,” Joachim Pfeiffer, the spokesman on economic policy for the conservatives in parliament, told Reuters.

Attacking the bank when it is in a period of consolidation is not clever but “cheap,” conservative lawmaker Michael Fuchs told the Passauer Neue Presse. “The economy minister is abusing his office to do party politics,” Fuchs said.

With elections due next year, German politicians have little appetite for helping Deutsche Bank, after its pursuit of business abroad left it facing billions of euros in penalties for wrongdoing.

In an Emnid survey for Focus magazine on Saturday, 69 percent were opposed to state aid for the bank, with just 24 percent in favor.

Reporting by Caroline Copley; Additional reporting by Andreas Rinke; Editing by Larry King