T-Online chief quits amid talk of rift in boardroom

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The Independent Online

Wolfgang Keuntje, the chief executive of T-Online International, resigned unexpectedly yesterday amid speculation of a boardroom rift at the German internet service provider. T-Online, whose parent company is Deutsche Telekom, said in an abrupt statement late yesterday that Mr Keuntje had decided to resign from the company with immediate effect. The group added: "He is leaving the company at his own request and cited personal reasons for his decision."

Wolfgang Keuntje, the chief executive of T-Online International, resigned unexpectedly yesterday amid speculation of a boardroom rift at the German internet service provider. T-Online, whose parent company is Deutsche Telekom, said in an abrupt statement late yesterday that Mr Keuntje had decided to resign from the company with immediate effect. The group added: "He is leaving the company at his own request and cited personal reasons for his decision."

Analysts were surprised by the news and speculated that Mr Keuntje's departure could have been due to disagreements with Ron Sommer, Deutsche Telekom's chief executive, over the failed negotiations to take over Freeserve earlier this year.

Michael Steib, an analyst at Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, said: "I don't believe in this 'personal reasons' story. It seems very unusual to announce something like that without naming a successor on a Friday afternoon ... when all the traders are at home or at the pub."

Theo Kitz, an analyst at Merck Finck in Munich, told Reuters: "I think it is either because half-year results are very bad or a takeover was stopped by Ron Sommer." He added: "That would be the second time because from what we've heard, Mr Keuntje wanted to buy Freeserve [Dixon's UK-based ISP] and that was also stopped by Sommer."

Hans Ehnert, a spokesman for T-Online declined to comment, except to say: "[T-Online] is continuing. Mr Keuntje is leaving our service with six million customers."

Mr Keuntje had been with the group since 1995 and had helped build the business from a base of just eight people. Deutsche Telekom listed 10 per cent of the internet group in April, issuing shares at 27 euros each. Shares were trading down 0.16 euros at 28.84 euros early yesterday evening.

Separately, last night there were reports that Freeserve was in talks with a major telecoms company about a possible joint venture in broadband Web access, which could involve the unnamed telecoms group taking a stake in Freeserve. In June, after negotiations broke down with T-Online, Freeserve said it was talking to potential partners but that no full bid was imminent.

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