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German Regulator Orders Halt to Maple Bank Transactions


Wendelin Wiedeking in November 2008, when he was the chief executive of Porsche. He and the former chief financial officer are on trial on charges that they deliberately misled investors in October 2008 to drive up the Volkswagen share price.

FRANKFURT — German regulators said on Sunday that they had imposed a moratorium on business activity by a niche investment bank in Frankfurt that played a prominent role in attempts by the Porsche family to take over Volkswagen several years ago.

The German banking regulator, known as Bafin, said that it ordered a halt to financial transactions by Maple Bank, the German subsidiary of Maple Financial Group of Canada. With obligations of about 2.6 billion euros, or $2.9 billion, the bank is overly indebted, Bafin said. Maple Bank is also the target of a tax evasion investigation that led to raids on bank offices in September.

It was the first time since December 2012 that German regulators have ordered a bank to close. Maple Bank has about €5 billion in assets and is not big enough to pose a threat to the stability of the financial system, Bafin said in a statement.

No one answered the phone at Maple Bank offices in Frankfurt on Sunday, and bank employees did not respond to emails seeking comment.

Maple Bank was at the center of an attempt in 2008 by Porsche, the sports car maker, and its family owners to take over Volkswagen. The takeover bid is also the focus of a criminal trial underway in Stuttgart, Germany, against two former Porsche executives accused of market manipulation.

Maple Bank, which advertises on its website that it specializes in market transactions, helped Porsche lock up Volkswagen shares using a complex combination of derivatives.

Porsche eventually failed to achieve its goal of acquiring 75 percent of Volkswagen, and Volkswagen wound up buying Porsche instead. However, the deal left the Porsche family with a majority of Volkswagen’s voting shares and four seats on the supervisory board. In addition, the chairman of the Volkswagen supervisory board, Hans Dieter Pötsch, is closely associated with the family.

The Porsche family’s oversight of Volkswagen came under criticism on Sunday from the head of Norway’s Government Pension Fund, which — with $800 billion in assets — is one of the largest sovereign wealth funds in the world.

The fund, which invests Norway’s oil wealth, has a 1.2 percent stake in Volkswagen. The carmaker, based in Wolfsburg, Germany, has been tainted by its admission in September that it programmed 11 million cars to cheat on emissions tests.

Yngve Slyngstad, the chief executive of the Norwegian fund, said in an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper published on Sunday that, in the wake of the scandal, the Porsche family has not been open to suggestions for overhauls.

“I don’t think that the family owners will change anything in the structure” of Volkswagen, Mr. Slyngstad said. “The family does not give us as co-owners the impression that they want to listen to us.”

Wendelin Wiedeking, the former chief executive of Porsche, and Holger Härter, the former chief financial officer, are on trial in Stuttgart on charges that they deliberately misled investors in October 2008 to drive up the Volkswagen share price. Porsche was threatened financially at the time, according to prosecutors, because a sharp decline in Volkswagen shares forced it to post cash to protect Maple Bank from losses.

At the time, Porsche had acquired 42.6 percent of Volkswagen voting shares and options equal to an additional 31.5 percent. News that Porsche had locked up 74.1 percent of Volkswagen shocked investors and provoked a scramble by hedge funds that had bet the shares would fall and needed to cover their positions.

Volkswagen shares soared because only a fraction of the company was available for trading on stock markets.

Mr. Wiedeking and Mr. Härter are contesting the charges. A verdict is expected by the end of February.

Porsche SE, the Porsche family holding company, has not had any business dealings with Maple Bank for several years and has no financial exposure to it, Albrecht Bamler, a spokesman for Porsche, said on Sunday.


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Author: Red

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