By Andreas Cremer
BERLIN (Reuters) - Investors suing Porsche SE for more than 4 billion euros ($5.4 billion) over its failed attempt to take over Volkswagen in 2008 may take encouragement from a German court ruling on Wednesday, a lawyer said.
The regional court in Braunschweig, northern Germany on Wednesday assigned one of six lawsuits, which is seeking 2 billion euros in damages, to a Hanover-based tribunal specializing in cartel matters, following a request from plaintiffs.
Seven plaintiffs including U.S. funds Elliott Associates and Perry Partners are now counting on judges more familiar with capital markets to assess their case, their spokesman said, after the Braunschweig-based court last September dismissed two other Porsche lawsuits.
"The decision should give tailwind to plaintiffs as the case will be elevated to a new level," said Robert Heym, a lawyer and expert on corporate mergers at Munich-based law firm Graf von Westphalen who is not involved in the case.
Heym said the five other lawsuits pending in Braunschweig, seeking about 2.4 billion euros in damages, might also be reassigned to a specialist court. The five cases are due to be heard on October 30.
Some German and U.S. investors say that throughout 2008 Porsche's holding company camouflaged its plans to acquire much-bigger Volkswagen and instead secretly piled up its holding in Europe's largest automaker.
In March 2008 Porsche SE dismissed as "speculation" talk that it intended to take over VW. Seven months later Porsche SE said it controlled 42.6 percent of VW's common shares and held options for another 31.5 percent of the stock it had not disclosed previously.
Porsche's statement caused VW shares to surge to 1,005 euros within days, briefly making the Wolfsburg-based carmaker the world's most valuable company, as short-sellers raced to buy back stock they had borrowed to bet that VW shares would drop.
Porsche SE, which controls about 51 percent of VW common stock, has repeatedly denied all allegations. The Stuttgart-based company said on April 30 that another 12 hedge funds had dropped a U.S. court appeal in a market manipulation suit.
"We take note of the verdict (by the Braunschweig court)," a Porsche spokesman said.
(Reporting by Andreas Cremer. Additional reporting by Jan Schwartz and Hendrik Sackmann.; Editing by Noah Barkin and Erica Billingham)