USA: No 'secret plan' to take over Chrysler, court told - report

By just-auto.com editorial team | 10 December 2003

DaimlerChrysler AG chairman Juergen Schrempp insisted on Tuesday that he "never had a secret plan" to take over Chrysler Corp. when the carmaker merged with Daimler-Benz in 1998, Associated Press (AP) reported.

"What we defined ... as a merger of equals was precisely complied with and done," Schrempp reportedly told a federal court judge when he appeared on the sixth day of a trial in which Chrysler shareholder Kirk Kerkorian is suing for more than $US1 billion in compensatory damages from DaimlerChrysler.

AP noted that Kerkorian claims he was duped into losing an acquisitions fee because Daimler-Benz falsely characterised its takeover as a "merger of equals."

According to Associated Press, Schrempp is a key witness in the trial, since Kerkorian's argument rests partly on a 2000 Financial Times newspaper article in which Schrempp said the deal was billed as a merger of equals "for psychological reasons." Schrempp also reportedly described Chrysler as a "division" of Daimler.

AP said DaimlerChrysler lawyers questioned Schrempp for five hours on Tuesday and planned to continue questioning him when court resumed Wednesday - Kerkorian's lawyers have not yet questioned Schrempp.

The chairman said Tuesday that he was trying to put a positive spin on the merger in the Financial Times article, since the company was being "hammered by the media" for Chrysler's poor performance that fall, AP said.

"I wanted to shift attention away from the continuous talk about the merger, which was done," Schrempp reportedly said, adding: "The operational problems had nothing to do with the merger."

According to AP, Schrempp said he referred to Chrysler as a division because he considers all of the merged companies - including Mercedes-Benz cars and trucks - to be various divisions. He also reportedly denied he had a plan to fire American executives and replace them with Germans.

"It would have been against my own interests to try to scheme in removing board members," Schrempp said, according to Associated Press, adding: "My interest was in creating the most successful, innovative auto company."

Schrempp reportedly told the court he has never spoken with Kerkorian.

Associated Press said that, earlier on Tuesday, Kerkorian's lawyers played excerpts from a videotaped deposition of Hilmar Kopper, the chairman of DaimlerChrysler's supervisory board, in which he said the 2000 replacement of an American, James Holden, as the head of Chrysler with a German, Dieter Zetsche, was an emergency measure because "Chrysler was sinking like a stone."

"We were facing such an acute, widening problem that we had to act immediately," Kopper reportedly said, adding: "There was no American choice."