Former Porsche communications chief charged with aiding market manipulation

False statements made during botched attempted takeover of VW

BERLIN (Reuters) — A German prosecutor has charged Porsche SE's former communications chief with aiding market manipulation related to the purchase of Volkswagen shares, after dropping identical charges against Porsche's supervisory board last week.

The prosecutor in Stuttgart said on Monday that former Porsche communications chief Anton Hunger had been charged with helping former chief executive Wendelin Wiedeking and ex-finance chief Holger Haerter to prepare and publish alleged false statements they made between March and October 2008 during Porsche's botched attempted takeover of Volkswagen.

Wiedeking and Haerter are due to stand trial on Oct. 22, but charges against Porsche board members including Ferdinand Piech and Wolfgang Porsche, of aiding market manipulation, were dropped by the prosecutor's office in Stuttgart on Friday.

Lawyers of Wiedeking and Haerter have denied any wrongdoing by their clients. A spokesman for Stuttgart-based Porsche said the charges against Hunger were "unfounded." Frankfurt-based law firm Livonius, which is defending Hunger against the charges, declined comment.

The former executives could face sentences of up to five years if they are found guilty of breaching securities trading laws, a criminal offense, prosecutors have said previously.

Porsche has faced investigations and investor lawsuits since disclosing in October 2008 that it had access to 74.1 per cent of VW, partly through options, and was seeking to acquire 75 per cent as part of a takeover strategy.

The Stuttgart prosecutor said on Monday that investigations had shown that supervisory board members had neither directly nor indirectly played a role in alleged false statements submitted by Wiedeking and Haerter.

Porsche's attempt to take over VW eventually backfired and pushed Porsche SE near to bankruptcy. To pay down its debt, Porsche SE was forced to sell its sportscar business to VW.

Porsche SE still holds a 51 percent stake in Europe's largest automaker. Piech, a grandson of the inventor of the VW Beetle, was chairman of VW until April, when he was forced out in a boardroom battle.

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