The role of Porsche SE’s supervisory board during a failed bid to take over Volkswagen AG is being investigated as a three-and-a-half-year-old market manipulation probe spreads to the family of the company’s founder.
Stuttgart, Germany, prosecutors, who have already charged former Chief Executive Officer Wendelin Wiedeking and ex-Chief Financial Officer Holger Haerter, have sent letters to everyone that was on Porsche’s supervisory board in 2008, informing them about the probe, spokesman Jan Dietzel said today.
The expanded probe means that prosecutors have contacted family members of Porsche founder Ferdinand Porsche. The board is led by his grandson Wolfgang Porsche. Ferdinand Piech, a cousin of Wolfgang, is also a member.
Prosecutors are investigating whether Porsche misled investors in 2008 when it denied that it planned to buy VW. The company still faces suits seeking more than 4 billion euros ($5.38 billion) in Braunschweig, Germany, over the issue.
Porsche spokesman Albrecht Bamler yesterday said the prosecutors were investigating the board and declined to comment further today. The carmaker and its former executives have rejected the allegations.
Members of the board, including labor representatives, are being looked at, Dietzel said. Prosecutors are reviewing whether the men aided Wiedeking and Haerter in market manipulation between March 2008 and October 2008, he said.
Wolfgang Porsche didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment left with Bamler. Piech didn’t reply to calls for comment on the probe.
Anton Hunger, Porsche’s former head of communication, said in an interview that he is also a suspect. Hunger declined to comment on the allegations.
A New York court in December threw out a lawsuit by 26 hedge funds accusing Porsche of hiding a plan to corner the market in Volkswagen shares. The hedge funds agreed not to appeal the U.S. ruling after striking a deal with Porsche that allows them to sue in Germany.
Following the victory in the U.S. case, the criminal investigation won’t pose “a big danger” for Porsche, said Juergen Pieper, an analyst at Bankhaus Metzler.
“This is the perfectionism that’s being pursued to clear everything up,” Pieper said in an interview. “The decisions have gone Porsche’s way so far.” He rates the company’s shares “buy.”
Porsche shares rose 0.3 percent to 65.18 euros in Frankfurt today.
In the period between March 10, 2008, and Oct. 2, 2008, Porsche denied at least five times that it planned to increase its VW stake to 75 percent, prosecutors have said. The company in October of that year disclosed a plan to take control of the carmaker.
Porsche and VW agreed to combine in 2009 after Porsche racked up more than 10 billion euros of debt in its hostile bid. Wiedeking and Haerter left Porsche in July of that year. A merger between the two companies was scrapped in 2011 because of the civil lawsuits.
To avoid further delays, Wolfsburg, Germany-based VW purchased the Porsche auto business, completing the transaction on Aug. 1. The Porsche holding company remains a stock-listed company, whose sole asset now consists of its VW shares.