The final act in the trial of Kirk Kerkorian's lawsuit against DaimlerChrysler AG hinges on a man with the power to say far more than either side may want to hear.
For 35 years, Gary Valade was the quintessential quiet, behind-the-scenes executive at Chrysler Corp. and then DaimlerChrysler.
A budget analyst who rose to the job of CFO, he was the numbers cruncher who sized up the earliest proposals for the automaker's 1998 merger with Germany's Daimler-Benz AG. He became Chrysler's worldwide purchasing czar and then the first American to direct Daimler's worldwide purchasing in Germany.
This week, barely a month into his retirement, Valade will take the stand in a Wilmington, Del., federal courtroom. He will face the question at the root of this $1 billion lawsuit: Was the merger nothing more than an elaborate sham to allow the Germans to take over Chrysler without a public fight?
That is the argument of Kerkorian, an 86-year-old billionaire real estate developer who contends he was duped when he endorsed the merger with his 89 million shares of Chrysler stock. Since the courtroom drama opened in December, his lawyers have picked at the real motives of the top brass on both sides of the Atlantic.