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Former MBUSA bost Ernst Lieb at the 2010 New York International Auto Show.

Ernst Lieb, the U.S. Chief Executive fired last October for allegedly violating Mercedes-Benz ethics policies plans to refute the charges in a German court.

The popular former executive claims, through his attorney, that he did not misuse company funds – and will fight to reverse his dismissal.

“None of the accusations are justified. And we will prove that,” attorney Stefan Naegele told Automotive News.

The firing, he insisted, was the result of an unfair crackdown by Mercedes’ parent, Daimler AG, which has been struggling to prove that it no longer tolerates the ethical lapses that cost it $185 million in a settlement with the U.S. Justice Department in 2010.

The 56-year-old Lieb was unexpectedly fired in October and, initially, company officials declined to discuss what led to his departure.  But as TheDetroitBureau.com subsequently learned Lieb was netted by Daimler’s new ethics office, accused of being a little loose with the corporate expense account.

The specific allegations were detailed during a November 29 preliminary hearing in a German courtroom when Daimler attorneys laid out a laundry list of personal items – ranging from an in-house home theater to a built-in barbecue – that Lieb reportedly purchased using company funds.  In all, the allegedly unauthorized spending came to more than $100,000.

According to a Daimler official, the 30-year veteran was fired because he “made incomplete, inaccurate and manipulative statements to the company and the responsible persons.”

While attorney Naegele – who represents several other execs fired for ethics violations — confirmed some items were paid for by Mercedes he countered that the company was aware of the work, much of it approved – and even ordered – by Daimler’s facility management department.  Some of the work was the result of water damage at the $1.4 million home Lieb occupied near Mercedes’ New Jersey headquarters.

Lieb was a highly regarded member of Mercedes’ senior management team and particularly well-liked by its U.S. dealer body – whom he encouraged to push the maker to the number one spot in the American luxury market this year.  Mercedes is currently running neck-and-neck with BMW, both pressing past long-time U.S. luxury leader Lexus due to the Japanese maker’s production shortages.

It’s unclear what would happen if the German courts were to find in favor of Lieb.  Mercedes recently promoted the executive’s former second-in-command, marketing chief Steve Cannon, to take over as Lieb’s successor.

 

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