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German prosecutors on Monday said their investigations into alleged corruption at chipmaker Infineon confirmed the existence of controversial payments linked to sports sponsorship that prompted the resignation of a key board member.
Andreas von Zitzewitz's departure at the weekend comes shortly after the resignation from Volkswagen of personnel chief Peter Hartz, also in connection with corruption allegations.
Although Infineon itself is not being investigated, Mr von Zitzewitz's resignation dealt a blow to the company, whose image had already been dented by the surprise ousting in March 2004 of Ulrich Schumacher, its flamboyant chief executive.
It also deprives Infineon of one of its most experienced executives. Mr von Zitzewitz had substantial knowledge of the D-Ram memory chip business that generates 40 per cent of Infineon's sales.
This part of the semiconductor business is notoriously volatile and capital intensive, although the heavy dependence on the computer market is starting to decline as high-end mobile phones and games consoles emerge as a new end-market for speciality D-Ram chips.
Analysts on Monday said Mr von Zitzewitz had been central to Infineon's efforts to stay abreast of fast-paced technological developments, moving to next-generation D-Ram production technology and working to diversify the D-Ram portfolio away from lower-margin products.
“Both in terms of its technological production capacities and the quality of its product portfolio, [Infineon's] D-Ram business is better positioned than before, and Mr von Zitzewitz's successor will be able to reap the fruits of this repositioning,” said Günther Hollfelder, analyst at HVB Group. Still, the scandal will further unsettle Infineon. Since taking over as chief executive last September, Wolfgang Ziebart has struggled to cut costs and made little headway in addressing underlying strategic problems, such as Infineon's wide-ranging portfolio and its lack of scale in key areas.
Meanwhile, reported plans to spin off the D-Ram business never confirmed by the company will have been dealt a setback, as Mr von Zitzewitz would probably have headed any new entity.
Prosecutors in Munich on Friday searched 15 premises in Germany and Switzerland to investigate whether Mr von Zitzewitz received bribes totalling €259,000 ($312,000) between 2002 and 2004. Evidence reviewed so far “confirms the suspicion of payments,” chief prosecutor Christian Schmidt-Sommerfeld said on Monday.