Arcandor’s Middelhoff gears up for trial

The former chairman of the bankrupt retail giant Arcandor, Thomas Middelhoff, has lashed out at his accusers as he prepares to fend off their claim for €175 million in damages.

Arcandor's Middelhoff gears up for trial
Photo: DPA

Insolvency administrator Klaus Hubert Görg, who took charge of the bankrupt firm in 2009, is suing Middelhoff for €175 million in damages in an Essen court. The trial began Wednesday morning.

In an interview ahead of he trial, Middelhoff told weekly Die Zeit that the complaint was “without substance and in fact connected to the campaign that I’ve had to endure for the past two years.”

Arcandor, which owned the Karstadt chain of department stores among other interests, declared bankruptcy in 2009.

“Mr. Görg has a theory that lacks any basis in reality,” Middelhoff said.

The theory “is that I, along with the construction company and asset manager Josef Esch, as well as the bank Sal. Oppenheim, am supposed to have collaborated to the detriment of Karstadt – out of self-interest,” he said.

The trial will delve into the relationship between Middelhoff and real estate fund manager Josef Esch.

Before Middelhoff came to Arcandor, he invested in a closed real estate fund that had taken over five Karstadt warehouses rented back to the retailer at suspiciously high rents, leading to charges that Middelhoff improperly profited from the deal through his position at Arcandor.

The fund was created by Esch and Cologne-based private bank Sal. Oppenheim.

Middelhoff said his stake in the fund with his wife was less than 10 percent, their investment was purely in a personal capacity and he never thought he would be tapped to join KarstadtQuelle’s board (the company was later renamed Arcandor) two years later.

After 2009, Arcandor was broken up. The large online shopping company Quelle was liquidated, while Karstadt was eventually bought by billionaire investor Nicolas Berggruen.

The Local/djw

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Middelhoff gets three years’ jail for fraud

Thomas Middelhoff, former chief executive of German media giant Bertelsmann and distribution giant Arcandor, was jailed for three years by a court Friday for tax evasion and fraud.

Middelhoff gets three years' jail for fraud
Thomas Middelhoff at sentencing. Photo: DPA

The regional court in Essen handed down a slightly shorter sentence than prosecutors had been calling for.

"I cannot accuse myself of any wrongdoing," Middelhoff said after sentencing. 

The prison term is too hefty to qualify to be suspended.

The former CEO was founded guilty on 27 counts of defrauding his former employer Arcandor, now bankrupt, of an estimated 800,000 euros ($997,000).

Middelhoff denied has vehemently denied the charges throughout the proceedings. In his closing remarks, he again stressed that his plan in joining Karstadt's former parent company was to "save the firm and preserve jobs." 

He has described the five-year investigation and subsequent trail a nightmare. "I feel that my dignity and honour have been violated." 

Middelhoff, 61, will be allowed to appeal the sentence.