Ex-Premiere chief denies insider trading claim

BERLIN — Georg Kofler, former CEO of financially troubled pay TV operator Premiere, has dismissed charges of insider trading and falsifying subscriber numbers in response to a lawsuit filed last week on behalf of shareholders.

A Munich-based shareholder protection group, SdK, filed the lawsuit against Kofler and Michael Boernicke, Premiere’s former chief financial officer, who succeeded Kofler as CEO in 2007 before ankling last year, for allegedly misleading investors with inaccurate subscriber figures and making millions from stock sales while knowing the company’s figures were incorrect.

In early 2007, with Premiere claiming an official subscriber base at 3.4 million and enjoying a stock price of nearly $23, Kofler and Boernicke sold their company shares for some $252 million and $8.2 million, respectively.

Yet last October, Premiere, now under the control of News Corp., announced that it had nearly 1 million fewer subscribers than it had previously touted under Kofler and Boernicke — 2.4 million instead of the 3.5 million reported in June.

The admission, accompanied by a stark profit warning, caused Premiere’s share price to plummet. Premiere shares are currently trading at $2.59.

Speaking to Reuters, Kofler called the charges “groundless” and said he is considering legal action of his own for potential libel and damage to his good name and reputation.

“Our reporting was always correct,” Kofler said, adding that the vastly different figures were attributable to vastly different marketing strategies.

Kofler said he aimed for a large customer base with lower revenue per customer, while the new management under CEO Mark Williams adopted a “radically” different approach.

News Corp. took over Premiere last year and has been restructuring the company, which will be renamed Sky Deutschland in July.

While the change will result in a massive writedown for the company of some $350 million on the value of the Premiere brand, the move does away with a name loaded with baggage, and places the paybox in the Sky fold, alongside News Corp.’s other more successful European pay TV businesses, British Sky Broadcasting and Sky Italia.

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