A German court revived criminal charges against two former Porsche SE executives involving a failed takeover of Volkswagen AG, saying prosecutors’ findings indicate it “seems quite likely” the company hid its plan.
The Stuttgart Higher Regional Court in an Aug. 18 ruling released today ordered former Chief Executive Officer Wendelin Wiedeking and ex-Chief Financial Officer Holger Haerter to stand trial on market manipulation charges. The court said Porsche’s board may have approved the deal seven months before the company announced its intentions and discussed it with state officials.
Porsche has faced investigations and lawsuits since disclosing in October 2008 that it had access to 74.1 percent of Volkswagen AG, partly through options, and was seeking to acquire 75 percent as part of a takeover strategy. The criminal case may boost the civil cases seeking more than 5 billion euros (6.6 billion) filed by investors who claim Porsche had decided to acquire its rival months before disclosing it.
The appeals court judges “list numerous indications that could suggest that there was a hidden decision to increase the stake as they could suggest the opposite evaluation by the lower court,” court spokesman Stefan Schueler said in an interview. “Because evidence rules are a highly sensitive issue, the case has to go to trial.”
The charges will be found meritless at trial, lawyers for both men said in a joint e-mailed statement. Porsche’s releases about the takeover were accurate at all times, they said.
Porsche also said in a separate statement that the charges were unfounded. The ruling overturned a decision by a lower court in April that said there wasn’t enough evidence to pursue the case.
The judges in today’s ruling list evidence suggesting that as early as 2006 Porsche tried to raise capital for a bid and to conceal these efforts.
The ruling cites one instance in March 2007 where Wiedeking said at the “Geneva auto show there was no current plan to raise Porsche’s stake above 30 percent, even though the family shareholders did approve this increase the next day,” the court wrote.
The judges also cite a memo of a meeting with the German state of Lower-Saxony’s government in February 2008 and a presentation at the time to the Porsche shareholders about the strategy regarding the Volkswagen stake. The company’s former chief counsel, who left in 2006, was also convinced the leadership sought a takeover because otherwise it didn’t make sense to increase the stake, the court wrote, citing her testimony in the probe.
The judges said it was likely that both management board and supervisory board “de facto” green-lighted the project on March 3, 2008. Minutes from meetings suggesting otherwise may have been drafted to write around the real intentions, according to the ruling.
Porsche has always said the takeover was only cleared in October 2008 and disclosed immediately. The announcement at the time caused Volkswagen’s stock to jump as short sellers raced to buy shares to repay borrowed stock in bets that VW would fall.
Porsche has been able to win dismissals in all German civil cases ruled on so far. A Braunschweig court has rejected three smaller cases. A Stuttgart tribunal in March dismissed a hedge-fund suit seeking 1.4 billion-euros. That case is now on appeal.
Porsche faces civil cases in Braunschweig, Stuttgart and Hanover. VW Chairman Ferdinand Piech and Porsche Chairman Wolfgang Porsche were also sued over the deal in a Frankfurt court for 1.8 billion euros.
Today’s case is 1 Ws 68/14.