A German court has acquitted Deutsche Bank chief executive Josef Ackermann and five other ex-members of engineering giant Mannesmann's board.
Germans had been shocked at the size of the bonuses
They were charged over their role in approving bonus payments worth $74m (£40m) to Mannesmann executives after Vodafone bought Mannesmann in 2000.
The trial was Germany's most high-profile corruption case in decades.
The verdict was widely expected after the chief judge said in April that she saw no basis for criminal charges.
"We are not sitting in judgment on German corporate culture, though the evidence that was heard provoked
astonishment," Judge Brigitte Koppenhoefer told the packed courtroom.
"One does not have to believe everything the defendants said. But one also cannot impugn them in every way,
Joseph Ackermann, chief executive Deutsche Bank
Klaus Esser, Mannesmann's former CEO - paid $27m bonus
Joachim Funk, former board chairman
Klaus Zwickel, ex-boss of the IG Metall union
Juergen Ladberg, workers' representative
Dietmar Droste, ex-employee
Vodafone's buyout of German cell phone rival Mannesmann in a $180bn deal was one of the largest mergers ever at the time.
The bonuses paid were considered astronomical by German standards where chief executives rarely earn above $2.5m.
Prosecutors alleged that executives failed to properly "manage" or "safeguard" Mannesmann assets.
The bonuses went to Mannesmann's departing chief executive Klaus Esser and chairman Joachim Funk, as well as several other staff.
The defendants, who include Mr Esser, were charged with breaching their fiduciary duty to the company by agreeing to the bonuses.
But defence lawyers had argued that prosecutors had failed to show that there had been economic damage to the companies.
They said the golden handshakes were appropriate compensation for the work the executives had done in increasing Mannesmann's value.
Departing Esser received a bonus
Mannesmann shares surged 136% after the takeover, they said.
The defendants had read like a list of who's who in Germany.
Klaus Zwickel, ex-head of the powerful IG Metall trade union, who sat on Mannesmann's board had also been charged.
The Deutsche Bank boss did not receive a bonus, but was the most powerful executive facing charges.
Since the case began, he was forced to commute from Frankfurt to Duesseldorf to spend two days a week in court.
He had questioned whether courts should set guidelines for executive pay.
"This is the only country where those who succeed in
achieving a good price (for a company) are dragged before
court for it," he said.
Deutsche Bank welcomed the verdict, saying: "The acquittal vindicates what we have always believed:
that Dr Ackermann has done nothing morally or legally
Hostile takeovers are rare in Germany, and Vodafone's successful battle to swallow a big name in German engineering shocked public opinion.
It quickly became linked to criticisms of globalised Anglo-US capitalism and condemned as an example of cut-throat business methods.
Judge Koppenhoefer said on Thursday she had received threatening telephone calls in connection with the trial.