DETROIT -- Billionaire Kirk Kerkorian's Tracinda Corp. rejected as "baseless" on Tuesday claims that it destroyed evidence that DaimlerChrysler AG might have used to defend itself from Kerkorian's multibillion-dollar lawsuit stemming from the 1998 merger of Chrysler Corp. and Daimler-Benz AG.
DaimlerChrysler said in a court filing that key evidence -- including telephone slips and notes about pre-merger meetings between Kerkorian and Chrysler Chairman Robert Eaton -- was destroyed by Kerkorian's personal assistant just days before he filed his lawsuit alleging that DaimlerChrysler lied to shareholders about the nature of the merger.
Tracinda "engaged in the willful and systematic destruction of evidence before and after this litigation commenced," DaimlerChrysler said in its filing.
Pre-merger meetings between Kerkorian and Eaton provide the basis for several fraud allegations in Kerkorian's lawsuit. But a source close to Tracinda said there were never any detailed records or transcripts of the talks between the men, and certainly nothing that could affect the outcome of the lawsuit.
In its filing, DaimlerChrysler asks a federal court to throw out some of Tracinda's claims because of the missing evidence or to view them in a negative light during a trial.
When the merger was announced, then-Daimler-Benz Chairman Juergen Schrempp and Eaton dubbed the deal "a merger of equals" and described a trans-Atlantic company that would have dual headquarters in Michigan and Germany.
The lawsuit alleges that Schrempp was instead plotting a cut-rate takeover of Chrysler that would make it a mere division of DaimlerChrysler with U.S. executives who held little if any power.
The lawsuit was filed after Schrempp told The Financial Times newspaper in October 2000 that he always intended Chrysler to be nothing more than a unit of DaimlerChrysler AG.
"After DaimlerChrysler admitted to the world in 2000 that it knowingly deceived Chrysler shareholders, it now tries to divert attention from its unlawful conduct by filing baseless motions," Kerkorian lawyer Terry Christensen said in a statement.
"DaimlerChrysler is weaving a fictitious story and telling bald-faced lies ... They'll be held accountable for all their actions in the courtroom," the statement said.
A federal judge is considering motions from DaimlerChrysler to dismiss the lawsuit.