Hess goes bust amid suspicion of cooking the books

German outdoor lighting manufacturer Hess has filed for insolvency, a few weeks after firing its CEO and CFO over suspicions that balance sheets were manipulated.

CEO Christoph Hess (pictured), who is the grandson of the company's founder Willy Hess, and CFO Peter Ziegler were removed last month when an internal investigation revealed that the company ‘has probably been, with the knowledge of the management board, in continuous breach of accounting rules for a remarkable period of time’.

The company, which was floated on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange in October last year, suspects it has been accounting for non-existent revenue and income ‘at least since the year 2011’. As a result, it says that the sales figures it reported in 2011 and 2012 were probably not achieved and that its financial situation is likely to have been presented 'too positively'.

Hess reported revenue of €68 million in 2011 and €58 million in the first nine months of 2012. The company is one of Germany's biggest and best known lighting brands. In the UK it has supplied lighting to the BBC's White City, Surrey University and Croydon's Centrale shopping centre.

Till Becker was appointed as executive director to steer the company to 'smoother waters', and its supervisory board called for an external audit to assess possible damages and legal claims.

But Hess found itself unable to pay its debts when financial backers froze its credit last week, and said there was now 'no positive prognosis of the continuation of the enterprise’.

The company, together with its subsidiary Hess Lichttechnik, has filed for insolvency at the local court in Villingen-Schwenningen, with Martin Mucha of Grub Brugger & Partner, Stuttgart, appointed as administrator.

Hess's supervisory board added that one of the main reasons for its illiquidity was that its major shareholder, an organisation administered on behalf of the Hess family, had not fulfilled 'due obligations' and was not willing to make 'sufficient contributions' to restructure the company.

Hess employs 360 people. As well as its headquarters near Freiburg in southern Germany, it has a manufacturing facility near Dresden and a subsidiary in the United States. Its products are distributed in the UK and Ireland by Thorn.