July 31, 2015 / 1:07 PM / in 2 years

Fiat Chrysler, Australia ex-CEO lock horns in court dispute over spending

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCHA.MI) traded charges in court with its former Australia CEO, who denied breaching his legal duties and said he acted on instructions from above after a lawsuit by the carmaker accused him of excessive spending and illegally enriching himself through commercial deals.

A Fiat Chrysler Automobiles sign is pictured after being unveiled at Chrysler Group World Headquarters in Auburn Hills, Michigan May 6, 2014. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

Fiat’s civil lawsuit in Australian Federal Court accuses Clyde Anthony Campbell, its local CEO from 2010 to 2013, of breaching the law and his contract by giving cars to celebrities and inflating contracts to benefit his financial interests.

In a defense filed on Thursday, Campbell denied breaching his legal duties and said Chrysler Asia Pacific CEO John Kett and other senior company officials had approved his actions. He said he was told the company “would pull out of the market for right-hand drive vehicles if he didn’t increase sales to 20,000 per year within three years and they didn’t care how he did it”.

Fiat Chrysler announced last week that Kett was leaving the company to pursue other interests. It made no reference to the Campbell suit.

Kett could not immediately be reached for comment.

The lawsuit by Fiat Chrysler, claiming unspecified damages, said Campbell failed to act in the best interests of the company by using its money to buy Chrysler cars for cricketer Shane Warne, his former girlfriend Elizabeth Hurley and soccer star Harry Kewell. Representatives for Warne and Kewell did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The claim made no suggestion that Kewell, Warne or Hurley were aware of any wrongdoing.

The suit said Campbell committed to an “uncommercial and detrimental” contract with Kewell, by agreeing to give him A$1 million ($730,000) a year and two latest-model Jeeps to be a brand ambassador. The contract was expanded in 2013.

The car maker also accused Campbell of agreeing to a series of contracts which benefited companies in which he or his friends had financial interests, and of charging his employer for services that were not carried out and using the money to help pay for a boat and a plane.

In his defense, Campbell denied using company funds to buy a boat and a plane and denied breaching his legal duties as chief executive.

The matter next appears before court in Melbourne on Sept. 18.

Reporting by Byron Kaye; Editing by Edmund Klamann

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