November 6, 2017 / 10:13 AM / a year ago

German prosecutors investigate possible Metro insider dealing

DUESSELDORF, Germany (Reuters) - German prosecutors are investigating multiple officials at Metro AG (B4B.DE) for possible insider trading and market manipulation, they said on Monday.

FILE PHOTO: Shopping carts of Germany's biggest retailer Metro AG are lined up at a Metro cash and carry market near the city of Bonn. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay/File Photo

The prosecutors did not specify names, but on Friday the retailer said that German prosecutors were investigating the supervisory board chairman and a senior executive.

The investigation centers on the flow of information ahead of a Metro announcement on March 30, 2016, about plans to separate its wholesale and food business from its consumer electronics chain to speed growth, sending its shares 12 percent higher. The consumer electronics business is now listed on the stock exchange under the name Ceconomy (CECG.DE).

“There are indications that three people from the company and one person outside the company were acquiring shares in Metro or forwarding insider information,” the Duesseldorf prosecutor, Ralf Moellmann, said in a statement.

A regulatory filing shows that supervisory board Chairman Juergen Steinemann bought 43,000 Metro shares on Feb. 22, 2016, worth a little more than 1 million euros ($1.16 million) at the time. Chief Operating Officer Pieter Boone bought 2,175 shares on Feb. 26, 2016, a separate filing showed.

A spokesman for Metro, speaking on behalf of the company, Steinemann and Boone, on Monday said it was aware of the prosecutor’s statement and was working closely with authorities but declined to comment beyond Friday’s statement.

On Friday a Metro spokesman said: “At the time that Mr. Steinemann and Mr. Boone bought shares, no insider information was available.”

In its investigation into market manipulation, the prosecutor said the focus was on five individuals from the company.

There are reasons to believe that the March 2016 announcement on the demerger should have been made earlier, the prosecutor said, adding that the delay could have had a significant effect on the share price.

On Friday the Metro spokesman said the company had communicated the demerger in a timely fashion.

The prosecutor confirmed that a raid was conducted on Metro’s headquarters and that data and evidence had been seized and was now being evaluated. He said that Metro was cooperating.

Reporting by Matthias Inverardi; Writing by Tom Sims; Editing by Louise Heavens and David Goodman

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