Ex-Porsche executives face three-month wait for possible charges

BERLIN Mon Aug 6, 2012 11:31am EDT

BERLIN (Reuters) - Former Porsche SE (PSHG_p.DE) chief executive Wendelin Wiedeking could have to wait for three months before he finds out whether German prosecutors charge him and his former finance chief with market manipulation of Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE) shares.

A spokesman for prosecutors in Stuttgart, where Porsche is based, said on Monday a police-led probe into the affair has now been concluded, confirming a report by German magazine Der Spiegel.

Lawyers of the two former executives have until the end of October to respond to the findings of the probe - which looked into possible manipulation of VW's share price by Wiedeking and Holger Haerter during the sportscar maker's botched 2008-09 takeover of VW - the spokesman said.

Wiedeking, hailed as "the man who outfoxed the market" by Fortune Magazine in January 2009 and Haerter could face a sentence of up to five years in prison if they were eventually found guilty of breaching securities trading laws, a criminal offence, the spokesman added.

Hanns Feigen, Wiedeking's Frankfurt-based lawyer told Reuters the probe's findings were unjustified. Haerter's lawyer, Anne Wehnert, was not available to comment.

Investors have accused Porsche's former top management of pursuing plans to take over much larger carmaker VW while making public statements to the contrary.

In March 2008, Porsche dismissed as "speculation" media reports that it intended to take over VW, which builds more cars in a week than Porsche does in a year.

Seven months later, Porsche disclosed that its options gave it control of almost three quarters of VW, sending the car maker's shares higher and forcing short-sellers to race to buy back stock they had borrowed betting that VW shares would drop.

The historic short squeeze pushed VW shares to over 1,000 euros each within days, briefly making the Wolfsburg-based carmaker the world's most valuable company and triggering accusations of market manipulation.

"The VW stock moves were totally irrational," said Stefan Bratzel, head of the Center of Automotive Management in Bergisch-Gladbach, Germany.

After a seven-year saga of mutual takeover bids by the two German car makers that nearly bankrupted Porsche and divided the controlling Porsche and Piech families, Volkswagen bought the second half of Porsche it didn't already own on August 1.

Investigations into Wiedeking and Haerter coincide with legal proceedings affecting Porsche SE, the publicly traded holding company that still owns 50.7 percent of VW ordinary shares.

Investors including U.S.-based Elliott Associates have been pushing demands in Germany for more than 4 billion euros ($5 billion) in damages as a result of Porsche's actions to increase its holding in VW. A court in Brunswick has scheduled a ruling on two cases for September 19. Other cases are pending at a New York-based court.

(This story has been corrected to remove extraneous words from the bottom section of story)

(Additional Reporting By Hendrik Sackmann; Editing by Erica Billingham)

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