Regulator, shareholders act on Premiere

Jörn Krieger

Premiere is in trouble – with both regulators and shareholders – over subscriber figures which the company last year admitted were inflated. Germany’s federal financial supervisory authority BaFin has launched a formal investigation into Premiere’s reporting, while two shareholders have lodged the first lawsuit against the broadcaster at Frankfurt’s district court.

BaFin’s enquiry will examine allegations of insider trading and market manipulation, a spokeswoman from the stock market regulator told German trade newsletter Medienbote. She added that the investigation was instigated by the ad-hoc message on October 2 2008 in which Premiere disclosed that it had considerably fewer paying subscribers than previously reported. Almost a million subscribers had to be removed from official figures, causing Premiere’s shares to drop drastically in value.

After Premiere’s admission, BaFin initially launched a routine analysis to find out whether there are signs of breaches of the capital market rules. If the allegations prove to be right, Premiere faces a penalty of up to a million euros. A referral of the case to the state attorney would also be possible.

The spokeswoman was not able to say how long the formal investigation would continue.

Meanwhile, the two disgruntled investors allege Premiere deceived them with incorrect information regarding subscriber numbers in the stock market prospectuses of 2005 and 2007. The action could prompt other shareholders to lodge claims.

Premiere announced on October 2 2008 that it actually had just over 2.41 million subscribers, rather than over 3 million. “The figures in the prospectuses evidently included non-activated and expired subscriptions. This wasn’t pointed out during the floatation or capital increase,” said the claimants’ lawyer Franz Braun from Munich-based law chambers CLLB. “Investors are therefore principally entitled to prospectus liability claims.”

“Particularly those shareholders who acquired stakes during the 2007 capital increase can demand that their purchases to be retracted or claim compensation for losses,” explained Braun. “But also investors who already purchased shares during the floatation can lodge claims with chances of success.” Braun believes there could be many aggrieved investors due to the drastic fall in value of Premiere shares since the broadcaster’s floatation from more than €30 to less than €2.

Braun expects the first results from the legal proceedings in around 6 months.