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Deutsche Telekom: Nowhere to hide

So much rests on the success of the Dm15 billion share issue for Deutsche Telekom, scheduled for November - not least the credibility of Frankfurt as a financial centre. But the odds are stacking up against a trouble-free issue. There's discontent in the top-heavy syndicate, the anti-trust measures under which Telekom will operate are still not clear, the German economy looks shaky and there are no plans to sweeten retail investors. Laura Covill reports.

In the first week of 1996, irate customers smashed windows at the Deutsche Telekom shop in Kassel, north of Frankfurt, and showered it with protest leaflets. Every television satirist in Germany tore into Deutsche Telekom in the following weeks, mocking the dense logic and baffling doublespeak that accompanied a new scale of charges introduced at the beginning of the year. Telekom made matters worse when it transpired it had inadvertently charged some New Year's Day callers at peak rates, netting an embarrassing extra Dm13 million ($8.8 million) because of a computer error.

"This is happening regularly," says one alarmed Frankfurt banker. "First there was the theft of telephone card units, then the sex services charging exorbitant rates to unwitting customers. And now this. People just don't believe Telekom any more. They're prepared to think the worst."

Such disasters have recently turned Germany's main telecommunications provider into public enemy number one. Can this be the same company which hopes to spark a German shareholder revolution, whip investors into a frenzy of enthusiasm and raise Dm15 billion towards the end of this year?

In panic, Telekom has thrown money at the image problem. It spent Dm40 million compensating customers for the Dm13 million gaffe and has run an apologetic advertising campaign that smacks of desperation.

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