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Business

Former Porsche finance head denies graft charges in court

Holger Härter, the financial brains behind Porsche's bold but ill-fated attempt to buy Volkswagen, has appeared in a Stuttgart court charged with fraud. He denied misleading lenders about Porsche's financial liabilities.

The former financial chairman of Porsche, Holger Härter, said outside the Stuttgart courtoom on Wednesday that the charges left him "stunned," and that "it's not in my nature to go behind business partners' backs."

Härter, along with two high-ranking colleagues at the time, is accused of misleading banks as Porsche sought to buy out the far larger Volkswagen carmaker over several years, a process that ultimately fell flat in the summer of 2009.

The VW and Porsche logos side by side (dapd)

Though separate, the two companies have been forever linked

"[The charges] are demonstrably false, and I will make that point in my typically relaxed nature during the trial, also clarifying a few things," the 56-year-old Härter said.

Limiting liabilites?

Prosecutors believe that Härter and his two colleagues misled French bank BNP Paribas, withholding key information that would have cast Porsche's creditworthiness in a more negative light.

Porsche declared liabilities to the tune of 4.1 billion euros ($5.1 billion) linked to its options on VW shares, but the public prosecutors allege that this figure was 1.4 billion euros too low. They also accuse Härter of failing to mention relevant short-selling activities that should have been submitted.

The court in Stuttgart has scheduled 20 trial days, to last until early 2013. The defendants could face up to three years in prison if convicted.

A potential, separate trial against Härter and then-Porsche CEO Wendelin Wiedeking is being analyzed by prosecutors in the state of Baden-Württemburg; the pair could face charges of manipulating the stock markets in the turbulent months ahead of the so-called "financial crisis" of 2008 and 2009.

Forever together

Porsche's four-year project purchasing VW stock and options was finally abandoned on July 23, 2009. The failed takeover left Porsche with debts it could not meet, and suddenly its acquisition target VW was transformed into the company's only lifeline. VW, itself already an owner of Porsche stock, began increasing its stakes in the company.

The Wolfsburg-based and partially state-owned giant completed its acquisition of Porsche in August, in exchange for 4.46 billion euros and a symbolic single voting share in VW.

Though separate on the books, VW and Porsche have been closely intertwined ever since their pre-war inceptions. Ferdinand Piech, the chairman of the VW board of directors since 2002, is also the biggest single Porsche shareholder.

msh/sej (dapd, AFP, dpa)