RealTime IT News

Lernout Chairman Latest to Leave

The executive purge continues at Lernout & Hauspie Speech Products, where an accounting scandal has led to an exodus of top managers, including two CEOs in the past six months.

The latest to leave: Chairman Roel Pieper, who has resigned in advance of an upcoming court-ordered shareholders meeting to be held by March 1 and the appointment of a new chairman and board of directors.

In a statement released Thursday night, Pieper said he was leaving to give L&H's new CEO, Belgian businessman Philippe Bodson, "complete latitude to form a new management team that will guide the company through the next stage of its recovery plan and beyond. I fully support and have the utmost confidence in Philippe, who is well qualified to lead this effort."

The company also disclosed for the first time that board member Bernard Vergnes, the former president of Microsoft Europe, resigned two weeks ago.

Bodson was tapped this week to become CEO of the Belgian speech-recognition software company after the resignation of John Duerden, who came aboard at CEO in August. Duerden replaced Gaston Bastiaens.

Duerden's hiring came as L&H, which has joint headquarters in Belgium and Burlington, Mass., and its accountants were just starting to uncover an accounting scandal involving the improper booking of $277 million in revenues and a missing $100 million from its Korean operations.

The company has since declared bankruptcy on both sides of the Atlantic and is under investigation by authorities on both the U.S. and in Europe.

In his resignation statement, Pieper said he wants to dedicate more time to his position at Insight Capital, a venture capital firm, and his professorship at the University of Twente in the Netherlands.

In a statement, Bodson said Pieper played a leading role in securing reorganization protection for the company in Europe and the U.S. In November he moved up from vice chairman, replacing the resigning co-chairman, Jo Lernout and Pol Hauspie, who founded the company.

L&H is moving forward with a recovery plan that includes the layoffs of 1,200 employees worldwide, about 20 percent of its workforce. It is also working on deals to raise capital and repay its creditors.

But in another dose of bad news for L&H, a bankruptcy court in Camden, N.J., ruled that a British software maker can proceed with a U.S. patent infringement lawsuit involving a leading L&H product.

Reuters reports that AllVoice Computing may seek a preliminary injunction to stop L&H from selling a voice recognition software product, NaturallySpeaking, which accounts for $50 million in annual revenue. AllVoice makes a similar software.

A bankruptcy court judge earlier had stayed AllVoice's two patent infringement lawsuits in Massachusetts, one in a U.S. district court and another in the First U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Reuters reports.