Mannesmann chief denies breach of trust

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The Independent Online

The former Mannesmann chief executive officer Klaus Esser, who is fighting criminal charges over a bonus he received after a €154bn (£106bn) takeover by Vodafone in 2000, said he acted in shareholders' interest during the world's biggest acquisition.

"The trial will show that there hasn't been a breach of trust and that I could, therefore, not aid such a suspected breach," Mr Esser, 56, told the regional court in Düsseldorf, on the third day of hearings in the country's first criminal trial over executive pay.

Meanwhile, the court announced before the start of Mr Esser's testimony that Vodafone's former chief executive Sir Christopher Gent will also testify in the trial. Mr Gent will take the stand on 25 March.

Mr Esser is among six former managers, directors and employees who prosecutors accuse of wasting €57m (£46m) of shareholders' money to persuade executives to accept Vodafone's hostile bid. The defendants deny wrongdoing and say the pay - more than a quarter of which went to Mr Esser - was a reward for raising the company's value.

Four former board members - Deutsche Bank's chief executive Josef Ackermann, the former supervisory board chairman Joachim Funk, the former head of the IG Metall union Klaus Zwickel and workers' representative Jürgen Ladberg - are charged with aggravated breach of trust over their role in approving the payments. They face as much as 10 years in prison if convicted.

Mr Esser and another former employee Dietmar Droste are charged with aiding and abetting the suspected breach of trust and face as much as seven and a half years in prison.

Other witnesses who are scheduled to testify include Vodafone's chief operating officer Julian Horn-Smith on 11 March. Hutchison Whampoa's managing director Canning Fok may also be asked to testify.

The trial is scheduled to last at least five months. (Bloomberg News)

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