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Trial Begins for "Muppets" German Owners

The former head of media-rights company EM.TV appeared in a German court on Monday to answer charges in a precedent-setting shareholder rights lawsuit. The court will decide whether Thomas Haffa can be held responsible for the catastrophic crash of EM.TV's share price. Haffa is the first executive to come under such intense legal scrutiny from a company that traded on Germany's Neuer Markt, which was disbanded earlier this year with the bursting of the New Economy bubble.

State prosecutors accuse Haffa and his brother, Florian, of publishing falsified half-year figures for the company in 2000 and manipulated forecasts. Testifying in court on Monday, Thomas Haffa denied the charges. "We always presented the state of the company to the best of our knowledge and conscience," he told the judges of the Munich Regional Court.

In their heyday, the Haffa brothers made handsome profits with the broadcasting and advertising rights to such popular programs as "The Muppet Show" and "Sesame Street" as well as Formula One racing. At its peak, EM.TV's shares rose to 120 euro ($120.28), but today it trades at less than a euro.