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Lernout and Hauspie fraud trial starts

Lernout and Hauspie fraud trial starts
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Belgium’s biggest ever fraud trial is underway. In the dock are the former bosses of bankrupt technology company Lernout and Hauspie which was a leader in speech recognition programmes for computers.

Jo Lernout and Pol Hauspie are accused with 19 others of fraudulent accounting to boost the value of the firm’s shares.

Entering court, Lernout was asked if he had betrayed the shareholders. He said he was innocent and he had the impression that they would have to prove that the company’s technology and its sales were genuine.

The company was founded in 1987, and grew into a group worth nearly 7.5 billion euros with a listing on the Nasdaq.

The technology, whereby a computer programme recognised somebody talking and was able to write out the words spoken, made Lernout and Hauspie business heroes in Belgium.

It was praised by Belgium’s Crown Prince Philippe when he saw it and the technology also impressed the software giant Microsoft whose founder Bill Gates visited the company in Belgium several times and invested in it.

Prosecutors say the technology was good but the company inflated its sales figures over the four-year period in which the price of its shares rose dramatically. The accounts appeared to show that sales to South Korea in particular had soared.

When the company crashed, seven years ago, investors lost millions.