Economy & Politics

Yesterday’s WesternThe rise and fall of Infomatec

Lucky knight of the Neuer Markt: Alexander Häfele (left) and Gerhard HarlosIllustration: Jindrich Novotny

One could have guessed that something was wrong with Infomatec. When the founders Gerhard Harlos and Alexander Häfele listed their Augsburg company on the stock exchange in the summer of 1998, it was little more than a combination of software companies. A main product was devices that were supposed to transmit the young Internet to standard television sets. Just 100 employees, single-digit million turnover – and vague promises.

It did not matter in those network-ridden times of the Neuer Markt, in which “Bild” headlined: “What do I have to buy to become a millionaire?” With Infomatec, that would even have been possible for a short time: The IPO was the most successful of the year at 560 percent . The mini-company was worth billions, promised that it would soon be at the top of the world with SAP, and analysts outperformed with price targets.

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But the shine was deceptive. At the 1999 Annual General Meeting, surfing devices were proudly presented whose software was not from Infomatec. Fatal were then several ad-hoc reports, including one about the “biggest deal in the company’s history”: The network provider Mobilcom had ordered 100,000 Infomatec devices. In truth, there were only 14,000.

When that came out, the bosses tried to save the shop: “Fundamentally well positioned,” Harlos swore to his investors. In the fall of 2000, he and his partner were arrested because, according to the prosecutor, there was a risk that they would go abroad. Harlos was sentenced to a suspended sentence in 2003, and Häfele to prison in 2004, partly for insider trading. “Air number and rogue,” the judge said. Originally, the judiciary had even wanted to prove to the bosses that it was “foundational fraud”. That didn’t work. Infomatec has been insolvent since 2001.

The company nevertheless wrote history: legal history. In 2004, an investor fought a legendary BGH ruling that shareholders are entitled to compensation after an incorrect ad hoc report. In 2012, other investors won a model decision. “Nobody has seen money yet,” reports Bernd Jochem of the law firm Rotter, which represented investors. Nothing was to be got from Harlos and Häfele had fled to Switzerland – the address is still unknown.

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Alexander Haefele and Gerhard Harlos founded Infomatec in Augsburg in 1988 and took the company public ten years later. Ex-bodybuilder and Bugatti driver Harlos and Ferrari driver Häfele quarreled after the decline.

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