The Troubling Troubles at Via Optronics

Via optronics AG is a Germany-based supplier of display systems and solutions listed on the New York stock exchange (NYSE). Back in November, the world officially found out that the company had been conducting an internal review of compliance procedures and investigating incidents related to violations of company policies over the period January 1, 2017 to December 31, 2022.

Preliminary findings indicate issues involving the former CEO and some employees related to expenses, credit card usage, vehicle documentation, and time off policies. The extent and response to violations is still being determined. The investigation delayed filing of Via’s annual financial statement for 2022. It’s now expected to be filed in early 2024 once the internal review concludes by end of 2023.

As a result, the founder and management board member Jürgen Eichner was placed on leave. The CFO is took medical leave, being temporarily replaced and Via secured an extension from the NYSE for its listing/trading status until May 16, 2024 while it works to complete the investigation and filings.

Now, we are learning that Eichner is no longer officially suspended, but has stepped aside voluntarily until the internal investigation wraps up later this year – officially a long, paid vacation. This allows the review to continue without any appearance of conflict of interest according to the company’s announcement which maintains the investigation is progressing and findings will be made public later.

A dissident shareholder group has formed to actively push for change in leadership and strategy at Via given what they claim is the poor oversight leading to huge shareholder losses over recent years. No surprise that the J. Carlo Cannell, head of Cannell Capital, announced the formation of a group called Rescue VIAO to help shareholders of Via. Cannell Capital owns 9.8% of Via’s share, the price of which has fallen 94% from $15.30 to $0.85 over nearly 3 years, destroying significant shareholder value. The group wants most of the supervisory board replaced, their fees returned, and a credible investment bank hired to explore strategic options, including a potential sale of Via. Boy, what a mess.