Former Lanxess CEO considering legal action over severance

FRANKFURT, March 20 Thu Mar 20, 2014 12:52pm EDT

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FRANKFURT, March 20 (Reuters) - The recently-departed CEO of German synthetic rubber specialist Lanxess is considering legal action to claw back severance pay he says he was forced to waive under pressure from the company.

The world's largest maker of synthetic rubber for tyres announced in late January that Axel Heitmann, who had run the company since 2004, would be stepping down by mutual agreement.

Since then, his designated successor, Matthias Zachert, has been outspoken in criticising the firm's cash management under Heitmann, saying too much was spent on new plants and equipment.

Heitmann's lawyers said in a statement on Thursday that after his departure was made public, the supervisory board chairman accused him of overcharging the company for security features that were added to his private home and pressured him to forego his severance package.

A company spokesman denied he was pressured into doing that.

German publications WirtschaftsWoche and Manager Magazin, have reported that at least 6 million euros ($8.4 million) in compensation is at stake for Heitmann.

His lawyers say that Heitmann only agreed to give up the package because he was told that otherwise he would be fired outright, with Lanxess making clear the departure was not by mutual consent.

"Our client has decided for his waiver of the severance package to be legally reviewed and potentially challenged," the statement said, adding that his reimbursement claims for security on his home had been appropriate.

Cologne-based Lanxess responded in a statement that while it was the norm for companies in Germany's blue-chip index DAX to pay for the protection of board members, Heitmann had overcharged for upgrading his house.

The company, whose rubber products go into tyres, door sealants and windscreen wipers, said Heitmann had conceded in writing there was misconduct in connection with the costs of security at his house.

When asked whether the former CEO had been put under pressure, a spokesman said in a statement that Heitmann himself had offered to alter the severance agreement.

"We are relaxed about the prospect of any lawsuit," he added.

($1 = 0.7189 Euros) (Reporting by Frank Siebelt; Writing by Ludwig Burger; Editing by Mark Potter)

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